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Preface to Poole's "Synopsis": The Need for a Synopsis of Interpreters

Updated: Feb 24, 2021

All men carry a sense of Religion deeply etched in their minds, even those who either struggle, καδ δύναμιν, as far as they are able, to shake it off, or represent themselves as having shaken it off. There are various kinds of Religions in the world, of which most are vainer than vanity itself. The Christian Religion alone merits the name of Religion; only this one uncovers fully and plainly both the diseases and the miseries of human nature, and luminously reveals the genuine remedy of both. Now, this Religion is to be sought, not out of the turbid ponds of the Philosophers, but out of the Divine Oracles, even that superlatively pure fountain of Sacred Scripture. To discuss extensively the surpassing excellence of the Sacred Scripture in this place, what would it be but to do what has been done a thousand times? Let that one saying of our Savior (and a more august saying is scarcely able to be contrived) be sufficient for all that have not completely cast off both Christianity and humanity, that, in searching the Sacred Scripture, we rightly believe that we are going to find that eternal and consummately blessed life.[1] He that despises the Scripture is worthy to perish in eternal death; but he that esteems the Scripture according to its worth is not able not to prefer greatly the Sacred Books to all the treasures of this altogether vain world. However, as that Divine Book rests, as it were, locked up in an Ark of languages, languages not commonly known, it abounds as well in difficulties, difficulties neither few nor small; neither is it to be denied that there are many obscurities and ambiguities, whether in the words or in the sense, which men, either muddled and twisted in mind or corrupted in manners, readily pervert into opinions not only false, but also ruinous: nothing can be more desirable to all those, to whom everlasting salvation is dear to the heart, than to have this Book opened, which remains sealed to the majority of mortals, whether through their ignorance or sloth, and to find a reliable guide or interpreter, who might open to souls, souls wandering through wastelands of errors, the true and safe path pointed out in the Sacred Volumes. Moreover, knowledge of the Sacred Scriptures, as it is most useful, and in a certain measure necessary, to all Christians, so also, and especially, to Theologians and Ministers of the Church; in whom ignorance of the Scriptures is a most grave sin, and certainly scandalous; out of which, as out of a fountain, almost all fantasies and plagues, either of opinions or of morals, rushed forth, all which undermined and ruined the present state of both the Church and the Ministry. This is certainly one origin of errors, and perhaps the principal origin, at least in men that are not malignant, that a great many Overseers of souls do not so press themselves to know the entirety of the Sacred Books, but that they, being content to learn some bits of them (insofar as the course of studies and sermons requires), willingly pass over the remainders ungreeted: As if God would have written something that does not need to be understood, or as if there might be a class of men whom He might have burdened to a greater degree, first to understand, then to explain, the Sacred, and indeed the whole, Scripture,as much as it is possible, through the weakness of human ability and the employments of their office, than those whom the Divine Majesty has established as Interpreters of His will. And if it is true (which is indeed altogether true) that the Sacred Text is the best interpreter of itself, and that the comparison of passages is preeminently useful in the mutual understanding of them, it is almost inevitable that they would slip into many errors, who, with that most fair framework of Scripture neglected, examine some parts of it exclusively, parts torn from the remainder. For this reason, many are the παροράματα/errors, unto the reproach of the Ministry and the ruin of Christian people, of certain Preachers in the exercise of their duty: sacred phrases distorted into an alien sense and doctrines faithlessly constructed by them, the fantasies of men peddled to the conscience of the Hearers instead of the Divine oracles, conscience bogged down by unnecessary scruples, or agitated by vain terrors, or deluded by false hope, or loosed from the just and necessary chains of genuine piety. So that one might resist these and innumerable other evils, learned and pious men in former generations of the Church applied their hands and minds to this work, with the result that they were conferring, by means of their laborious studies, the Sacred Scripture, or some part of it, explained. For this reason, there is so great a crowd of commentators, particularly in these latter generations of the Church, to which generations, by Divine mercy alone, this blessedness arose in the midst of many calamities, with the result that the brightness of heavenly truth was shining forth more brilliantly, and the words and sense of the Holy Spirit in the Biblical Books were being thoroughly investigated and more solidly explained than had been granted in most of the preceding ages. Nevertheless, it is not to be denied that, among the most learned and painstaking Commentaries of some, Commentaries altogether worthy even of cedar and marble, a considerable amount of rubbish from other commentators has crept in, worthy of the leisure only of the author himself and of his squandering reader, which were not so much being worn away by the hands of the most studious as they were becoming prey to moths. And the multitude of Interpreters is perhaps not less detrimental to the Church, or at least to the studies of Theologians, than the multitude of Doctors was once to Hadrian.[2] Furthermore, since many candidates for Theology are destitute either of the knowledge of the field so that they might discern the best Interpreters, or of the judgment by which they might select the best, or of the endowment by which they might purchase them, or of the time or inclination by which they might diligently and fruitfully read them; it is unavoidable that the acquisition of sound knowledge of the entire Sacred Text be of very great exertion and of the highest difficulty. In addition, pondering the tendencies and methods of the Commentators, I appear to have detected more than a few errors in many of them: these, by their prolixity, overwhelm and weary readers; those, by their brevity, envelop and conceal the sense: these, indifferent with respect to words and phrases; those, not discerning with respect to substantial matters (especially with respect to difficult and obscure matters, which chiefly call for the labor of the Interpreter): these overflow in superfluities; those lack in necessities: most stuff each page of their books, not so much with their own thoughts, as with the Interpretations of others a thousand times repeated.

[1] John 5:39.

[2] Dio Cassius’ Roman History 69:22. Hadrian had always been strict in his dietary practices; however, during a prolonged final illness, when his physicians refused to help him commit suicide, he began to consume food and drink unsuitable for his condition. Hadrian quoted the popular saying: “The multitude of physicians has slain a king.”

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Dr. Dilday
Dr. Dilday

If the Scriptures are indeed a Revelation of the Divine Being and the way of salvation (and they most certain are), what can compare with the study of them?

In addition to His Word and Spirit, the ascended Christ has provided faithful teachers in all ages to help us in the study of the Scriptures (Ephesians 4:11-13). Poole is providing a summary of their teaching, a thing exceedingly precious...

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