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William Tyndale

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Puritan Interpretation of Scripture
Church History · James Durham · Leland Ryken · Papism · Thomas Gataker · William Bridge · William Tyndale · Worldly Saints

Leland Ryken on Puritan hermeneutics:

imgThe logical starting place is the Puritans’ belief that the Bible must ordinarily be interpreted literally or historically, not arbitrarily allegorized. To understand why the Puritans made so much of the literal or single interpretation of Scripture, we need to know something about the centuries-long Catholic practice of attributing allegorical interpretations to virtually all of Scripture.
   Catholic interpreters, for example, claimed that in the story of Rebekah, Rebekah’s drawing water for Abraham’s servant really means that we must daily come to the Bible to meet Christ. The six water pots at the marriage in Cana refer to the creation of the world in six days. The woman’s comment in the Song of Solomon that “my beloved is to me a bag of myrrh, that lies between my breasts” was interpreted as meaning the Old and New Testaments, between which stands Christ. Another commentator found the breasts to denote the learned teachers of the church, and yet another thought the verse referred to the crucifixion of Christ, which the believer keeps in eternal remembrance between his breasts, that is, in his heart.
   To the Puritans, such allegorizing was ridiculous and unreliable. “The Scripture hath but one sense,” claimed Tyndale, “which is the literal sense, and that literal sense is the root and ground of all, and the anchor that never faileth.” Thomas Gataker agreed: “Sir, we dare not allegorize the Scriptures, where the letter of it yields us a clear and proper Sense.
   We should pause to note what the Puritans did not mean when they insisted on the literal or plain interpretation of Scripture. They did not mean that the Bible is literal rather than figurative. William Bridge, for example, commented that “though the sense of the Scripture be but one entire sense, yet sometimes the Scripture is to be understood literally, sometimes figuratively and metaphorically.” The Puritans did not even deny that there were allegorical passages in the Bible. James Durham wrote, “There is great difference betwixt an allegoric exposition of Scripture, and an exposition of allegoric Scripture.”

—Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Academie Books, 1986), 145.