The development of exegetical method in England: 1496-1556
Feldmeth, Nathan P.
The practice of biblical exegesis underwent a dramatic metamorphosis in the first half of the sixteenth century in Europe. This evolution was brought about by the convergence of several factors including: 1) The development of humanism; 2) An emphasis on literacy, and the quest for a vernacular Bible; 3) The invention of moveable type; 4) The publication of critical texts of the Old and New Testaments in the original Greek and Hebrew; and 5) The general atmosphere of change and progress which characterized the period.In England this hermeneutical revolution was accelerated by the public lectures of John Colet at Oxford University in the late 1490's. Colet's desire for a simplicity of meaning, in sharp contrast to traditional interpretation, made his addresses on the Pauline letters truly unique. One of those influenced by the Englishman was the young humanist Desiderius Erasmus. Wedding his love for the "New Learning" with Colet's approach, Erasmus, although maintaining allegorical interpretation as a means by which to reconcile the Old and New Testaments, made a massive impact upon exegesis through his critical text of the Greek New Testament, and his annotations and paraphrases on the same.The first major English Protestant exegete to influence his homeland was William Tyndale. Although deeply influenced by Luther in his early works, Tyndale's great capacity for linguistic analysis allowed him to develop more independence in later years. In the half decade prior to his execution in 1536, Tyndale's theological opinions, especially his theology of the conditional- covenant, had a profound influence upon his exegesis.The final section of this research surveys the writings of six leading Anglican reformers: John Bale, John Bradford, Thomas Cranmer, John Hooper, Hugh Latimer, and Nicholas Ridley. Although quite able to do serious systematic exegesis, these men devoted the lion's share of their time and energy to the urgent practical needs of the English Reformation under King Edward VI. Nevertheless, they did make some advances on the interpretation of figurative passages in the New Testament, due to a prolongec4 debate over the meaning of passages relating to the eucharist question. The one area of real development was in apocalyptic interpretation. John Bale's commentary on Revelation proved to be a very influential synthesis of medieval and modern approaches to the Apocalypse and set a "historicist" pattern for future British interpreters of the book.