Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bullinger and Hermeneutics

Although Bullinger acknowledged his indebtedness to Erasmus whom he regarded as a fine scholar of Greek and although he often consulted Erasmus’ work, Bullinger made conclusions on the text based on his own study of the Greek text using a biblical theological hermeneutic. That is, Bullinger did widely use rhetoric in interpreting Scripture but did not do so blindly.

While expressing amazement at Erasmus’ conclusion in De libero arbitrio, Bullinger revealed in a letter written on 26 January 1526 to Johannes Eizlin and Christoph Stiltz that the use of rhetoric in unpacking the message of Scripture must be carried in the context of exegesis that is faithful to the message of Scripture as a whole:

“I will not dwell now on how inappropriate, ineffectual, and feeble it is so that no pious person could ever praise it for anything but its artifice. But in a controversy of this magnitude a theologian would have been preferable to a rhetorician: what has piety to do with Erasmus’ flourishes or rhetoric?.... Otherwise I honour, look up to and admire Erasmus as the father of his country (i.e. second Cicero), the prince of eloquence, patron of literature, source of humanities and the restorer of languages together with Reuchlin but in holy Scripture I judge him to be the sage of the world. What this sort think to true religion Paul teaches us at the beginning of his letter to the Corinthians”.

In his Ecclesias evangelicas (1552) Bullinger affirmed, on the basis of 2 Peter 1:21, that the Holy Spirit is the author of Scripture and, therefore, “not of private interpretation”. By referring to Romans 12:3 Bullinger explains that interpreting Scripture is “to be moderated according to the measure of faith…(moderari ad proportionem fidei)” He further pointed out that, “the Evangelical churches do not receive or recognize any interpretation of Scripture whatsoever, but only that sense which that Scripture in itself demands, which comes from the Spirit of God by whom Scripture is inspired, which agrees with itself throughout and which is in accordance with the rule of faith and love (non quem vis scripturae sensum recipit aut agnoscit ecclesia evangelica, sed eum tantum quam petitur ex ipsa scriptura, qui est ex ipso spiritu Dei, per quem scriptura inspirata est, qui sibi per omnia constat, ac cum regula fidei …. & charitatis concordat)”.

The very first sentence in the Preface to Bullinger’s combined commentaries on the Pauline epistles indicates the paramount importance that he placed on the Word of God, its perspicuity and its authority:

“First of all, we would like to point out, dear reader, that we have written no laws, but commentaries, which one must verify, and may not be considered as divine oracles. The Bible is the only measuring stick for the truth. Where, then, you notice that I have not been quite correct in my interpretation, lay my commentary aside and follow the Bible.”

Bullinger sought to write his commentaries on the Pauline epistles in a manner characterized by brevity, faithfully communicating what the apostle intended as well as indicating the major thread of the argument of the apostle. Bullinger explained to the reader:

“I have pointed out whenever an unusual or obscure word appears. I have explained those words which are more difficult. And, as much as I could, I have also smoothed out and even filled out roughness and gaps of the language. I have annotated whenever idioms or metaphors of the Hebrew language occur.”

This declaration indicates that Bullinger had not only mastered the biblical languages philologically but that he was clearly aware of the background to the Greek style that the apostle Paul used, especially his frequent use of ellipsis. Kok noted that Bullinger wrote the commentary “for the sake of the inexperienced and moderately educated.”

(see Irena Backus, “Bullinger and Humanism”, in Emidio Campi and Peter Opitz (eds.) Heinirch Bullinger: Life-Thought-Influence, (Zürich: Theologischer Verlag Zürich, 2007), pp637-659; Christine Christ-von Wedel, “Zum Einfluss von Erasmus von Rotterdam auf Heinrich Bullinger”. in Emidio Campi and Peter Opitz (eds.) Heinirch Bullinger: Life-Thought-Influence, (Zürich: Theologischer Verlag Zürich, 2007), pp407-424; Diana Clavuot-Lutz, “Eleganter et breviter Erasmus exposuit: Auf Spurensuche in den Predigkommentaren zum Römer- und zum Galaterbrief von Heinrich Bullinger”, in Christine Christ-von Wedel and Urs Leu (eds.), Erasmus in Zürich : eine verschwiegene Autorität, (Zürich: Verlag Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 2007), pp 193-221; Aurelio A. Garcia Archilla, The Theology of History and Apologetic Historiography in Heinrich Bullinger: Truth in History, (San Francisco: Mellen Research University Press, 1992), pp172,173. The full title of Ecclesias evangelicas is: Ecclesias evangelicas neque hæreticas neque schismaticas, sed plane orthodoxas & catholicas esse Iesu Christi ecclesias, Apodixis, ad illustissimum principem & dominum D. Georgium Comitem Vuirtenbergen. & Montis Bellgradi, &c)

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