Dr. B. H. Carroll*

(The following has been excerpted from An Interpretation of the English Bible, the Introduction to Genesis, by B. H. Carroll).


Even before my conversion, when the Bible was considered merely from the standpoint of literature, it seemed to me the best and richest of the classics, and utterly apart from any thought of its alleged inspiration, to deserve a place in the curriculum of a liberal education far beyond that assigned Greek and Roman classics, or to the other acknowledged masterpieces of our own tongue....

From any literary viewpoint I could see no good reason for excluding from our schools a study of this Book, while giving so much attention to the myths, fables, legends, idolatries, philosophies, and sceptical speculations selected from ancient heathen and more modern foreign classics. In moral purity and sublimity of thought, grandeur of matter and loftiness of design, they all fall below the excluded Hebrew literature.

But soon after my conversion, and in the light of it, my reflections began to take, and continued to take with cumulative power, a wider and intenser form. In this Book alone I found the origin and destiny of all created things and beings - here alone the nature of man, and his relations to God, the universe and fellow man, out of which arise all of his obligations and aspirations, and in conformity to which lie his usefulness and happiness. This Book alone discloses man's chief good and chief end.

I saw it as the only living oracle, replying instantly and freely in simple, unambiguous language to every inter-rogatory propounded by life's problems and perplexities. In its presence the double-tongued oracles of the heathen became dumb, their dubious utterances died into echoless silence and their idolatries and superstitions were relegated to the moles and bats.

From this reflection there was an unconscious transition to the natural inquiry: Are the people ignorant of the matter of this Book? And if informed somewhat, how extensive and systematic is their knowledge? Investigation brought an appalling answer to this inquiry: Very few were found to be students of the Book. Fragmentarily, here and there, and from many sources, something of its matter had been picked up by most men. Much of this in corrupt form.
The inquiry passed from the pew to the pulpit, and here the disclosure was more startling. These men by office and profession were the teachers of the Book. Surely these preachers have studied earnestly, prayerfully, profoundly, and systematically all of the messages they are appointed to teach! And if they have not as yet, in some fashion, gone over the whole ground, surely they are habitually and diligently prosecuting such a study! If every one of the sacred writings is inspired of God, and is profitable for teaching what men ought to know and believe, and for conviction and correction of all wrongdoing, and instruction in all right doing to the end that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped unto every good work, surely a teacher of the Book will neglect no part of it, and will hasten to acquaint himself with it!

But the amazing truth must be acknowledged that few preachers, learned or unlearned, actually study the Bible itself, their supreme textbook, as a complete and well-ordered system of divine truth. It does not square with the facts in the case to limit this ignorance of the Bible to uneducated country preachers.

Some of them study the Bible itself more, and are better acquainted with it, than many educated preachers. Too many of the latter class confine their studies to the framework and background of the divine painting, to the human outskirts and spurs of the mountain of revelation, to the temporary and perishing scaffolding of the temple of truth. The scholastic spirit drives out the Holy Spirit; the study of the myriad vagaries of subtle and ever-shifting philosophies, and of the protean shapes of speculative hypotheses and hair-splitting criticisms on text or history, becomes their theological task. And to this task, what are the labors of Hercules? Even searing with a hot iron does not stop the growth of new heads on this Hydra....

More than twenty-five years ago, before a great audience, I propounded this question: What would be the power of a man who with only Cruden's concordance as a help, devotes three entire years to the reverent and prayerful study of the English Bible? Let this application be as rigid as a course in mathematics. Let him put aside for the time being all that he cannot understand from a comparison of scripture with scripture; then let him construct by his own analysis an orderly body of divinity.

Would not this man be a theologian? Would he not have an inexhaustible store of Bible sermons? Would he not, other things being equal, tower among the preachers like Saul, head and shoulders among his fellows?

Would he not be an original thinker? Would he not know how to handle a Bible? Would he not be approved unto God as a workman, that needeth not to be ashamed, able to rightly divide the word of truth, giving to each hearer his portion in due season? . . . The great majority of the preachers in every age had but little learning except what they gathered from the Bible.


-The usage of common life determines the meaning of a word or phrase; not that of philosophy.

-The usage of time and place of the writer determines the meaning; not that of any other time; not modern usage.

-If a word or phrase has several meanings, the context determines the meaning it bears in a given passage. The more common meaning of the writer's day is to be preferred, provided it suits the passage, not that more common in our day.

-If the author has occasion to employ a new word, or an old word in new signification, His own definition must be used to determine the meaning, not any other author's usage.

-The direct or literal sense of a sentence is the meaning of the author, when no other is indicated, not any figurative, allegorical, or mystical meaning.

-Passages bearing a direct, literal or fully ascertained sense go to determine what passages have another sense than the literal, and what that other sense is; not our opinions.

-The Bible treats of God in relation to man. It is obvious that this circumstance will afford occasion for new words and phrases, and new applications of the old ones. It brings into view such peculiar figures of speech as are called anthropomorphism and anthro-popathism. It gives a new expansion to all the previous rules.

-A word, a phrase, or sentence belonging primarily to the things of man must be understood, when applied to the things of God, in a sense consistent with his eternal nature; not in a sense contradictory to any known attribute of that nature.

-There is a growth in the Bible in two respects:

(1) There is a growth in the adding of document to document for at least 1,600 years. Hence the simple or primary part of speech will appear in the earlier documents; the more expanded and recondite may come out only in the later.
(2) There is a growth also in adding fact to fact, and truth to truth, whereby doctrines that at first come out only in the bud are at the end expanded into full bloom. At its commencement the Bible chooses and points the all-sufficient root from which all doctrines may germinate. The root is God. In Him inhere all the virtues that can create and uphold a world, and therefore in the knowledge of him are involved the doctrines that can instruct and edify the intelligent creature. Hence the elementary form of a doctrine will be found in the older parts of scripture; the more developed in the later books. This gives rise to two similar rules of interpretation:

-The Old Testament was composed in Hebrew, the New Testament in Greek. Each must be interpreted according to the genius of the language in which it was originally written. The interpreter must, therefore, be familiar with the grammar of each in which the particulars which constitute its genius are gathered into a system. The writers of the New Testament were, moreover, Hebrews by birth and habit, with the possible exception of Luke. Their Greek, therefore, bears a Hebrew stamp and their words and phrases are employed to express Hebrew things, qualities, customs, and doctrines. Hence they must receive much of their elucidation from the Hebrew parts of speech of which they are the intended equivalents. Two rules of interpretation come under this head:

-The Bible is the word of God. All the other elements of our fundamental postulate are plain on the surface of things, and therefore unanimously admitted. This, however, some interpreters of the Bible do not accept, at least without reserve. But notwithstanding their rejection of this dogma such interpreters are bound to respect the claims of this book to be the word of God. This they can only do by applying to its interpretation such rules as are fairly deducible from such a characteristic. In doing so they put themselves to no disadvantage. They only give the claimants a fair stage, and put its high claim to a reasonable test. Now, God is a God of truth. Hence all Scripture must be consistent with truth and with itself. It contains no real contradiction. This gives rise to the following rules:

* About The Author

Dr. B. H. Carroll (1843-1914) was Founder and President of Southwestern Theological Seminary (Southern Baptist) of Fort Worth, Texas (USA)