Interpretation and Alexander Campbell

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I am reading the Fourth Edition of the Sacred Writings of the Apostles and Evangelists, Alexander Campbell’s team effort with Doctors George Campbell, James Macknight and Philip Doddridge for translating the NT. Because of the number of interpretation tools that Campbell mentions in his preface work, I am using this NT translation as a resource for an exegetical project that I am working on – trying to reveal that Campbell, for all his short comings, was very much attempting to understand the original intent of the Scriptures; and that the tools that he mentions are concepts espoused by modern day Bible interpreters.

While I was reading, I found the following within the General Preface, An Apology for a New Translation:

Yet it may so happen that, now and then, once or twice, in a hundred years, as individual or two may arise, whose literary acquirements–whose genius, independence of mind, honesty, and candor, may fit them to faithful and competent translators; and, of their honesty and faithfulness, the greatest proof which can be presented, is their correcting the mistakes of their own party, and with perfect impartiality censuring the errors of their own denomination, as they censure those of other denominations; and with cheerfulness commending the virtues, and acknowledging the attainments of those who are ranked under another name, as they do those of their own people. Such, in a very eminent degree, were the translators of this version. (Pages vi-vii)

I truly admire the idea of “correcting the mistakes of their own party, and with perfect impartiality censuring the errors of their own denomination, as they censure those of other denominations” but it seems rather smug to claim “Such, in a very eminent degree, were the translators of this [A. Campbell’s Sacred Writings] version.”

It seems true that literary “genius” honesty and candor are needed for Bible translation, but I am not certain that “independence of mind” is completely true. At the outset, I don’t think Campbell was insinuating this, but I want to affirm that true Biblical interpretation cannot be accomplished outside the Holy Spirit’s aid. The translator, student, disciple and church are dependent on the Spirit’s guidance.

Taking that into account, I think Campbell is referring to “independence of mind” separate and apart from any specific “denomination”. But as I have been conducting my own studies, I think the best thing is an awareness of one’s own “denominational” prejudices when one reads the Bible. This means that as I read the Bible, I must be aware of the preferred interpretations of the church of Christ (cofc). Yet, even within the cofc, it is further classified into: conservative, liberal, mainstream, and progressive interpretations. All I mean by this is that when I study the text of the Scriptures, whichever classification I was taught, is the interpretive lens that I initially take into my study of the Scriptures. This simply means that any particular cofc preferred interpretation of any given passage may or may not be fully accurate; and is thereby subject to revision according to Holy Spirit guidance, to Holy Writ and original intent, not my personal religious preferences.

So with direct application of Campbell’s statement: if I as a part of the cofc heritage have participated in “censuring the errors” of denominations, then it is necessary, as a Bible student, minister, and interpreter to correct “the mistakes of [my] own party, and with perfect impartiality censuring the errors of [my] own denomination”. Rough words from Campbell, but if the goal is knowing the truth of the original intent of the languages of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, then prejudices, as they are learned, must be set aside in order to see the truth, irrespective of my own personal, congregational, and denominational preferences.

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