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History of Interpretation


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Originating as a series of lectures at the University of Oxford in 1885, this book by Bible scholar F. W. Farrar surveys the history of biblical interpretation from the early Jewish rabbis through his own time. Contents includes: Success and Failure of Exegesis, Rabbinic Exegesis, Alexandrian Exegesis, Patristic Exegesis, Scholastic Exegesis, The Reformers, Post-Reformation Epoch, and Modern Exegesis.

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Praise for the Print Edition

There is nothing in English to replace the old work by Frederic W. Farrar.

—Dr. Vern S. Poythress, Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation

...a worthy counterpart to Schleiermacher...

—Donald K. McKim, Historical Handbook of Major Biblical Interpreters

...a work of real merit which took years of painstaking research to produce.

—Cyril J. Barber, Author, The Minister's Library

Product Details

  • Author: Frederic W. Farrar
  • Publication Date: 1886
  • Pages: 553
Frederic Farrar

Frederic William Farrar (August 7, 1831–March 22, 1903), an English clergyman and author, was born in Bombay, India, and educated in England. In 1876 he was installed canon of Westminster and rector of St. Margaret’s. He became archdeacon of Westminster in 1883 and in 1885 he was appointed Bampton lecturer at Oxford, and took for his subject “The History of Interpretation.” He was appointed dean of Canterbury in 1895, in which capacity he served until his death. He was influential in the spread of the “Broad Church” movement and was one of the founders of the institution known as the Anglican Brotherhood. His writings cover a wide range, from school stories to Scripture commentaries and theological studies. His Life of Christ (1874) and Eternal Hope (1878) have seen several editions.

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8 ratings

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  1. Kenneth



  2. Christopher Engelsma
  3. Claude Brown Jr
    Do not read another Commentary until you read Farrar

  4. Robert J Smith
  5. Paolo russo

    Paolo russo


  6. Curtis Dubreuil
  7. Phil Gons

    Phil Gons


  8. Russ White

    Russ White


    If you're trying to really get a grasp on the failures of hermeneutics throughout the ages of the Christian Church, and you want specific examples of each error, this is an excellent resource. Dr. Farrar actually delivered this book as a series of lectures at the University of Oxford in 1885. The book stops, obviously, at the "modern" age of the late 1800's, but is exhaustive in its review of almost every major theologian and Biblical interpreter up to that time. The key, when looking through this book, is to remember it is meant to be a negative tome. The point isn't to describe interpretation and hermeneutics in general, but rather to bring out specific failures in each time period covered. Some, of course, are given a stronger dose of approbation than others —but this is as the reader might expect. The author begins his task with an overview of the meaning and task of interpretation and exegesis. Today we would call this topic hermeneutics. He lays out the necessity of interpretation and the seven main periods of interpretation up to the late 1890's. In the following chapter, he lays out various systems of rules that have been created to guide the interpretive process, shredding each set as he sets them out. "This rule of “equivalence” has always been prevalent in scholastic systems. It means the isolation of phrases, the misapplication of parallel passages, the false emphasising of accidental words, the total neglect of the context, “the ever-widening spiral ergo from the narrow aperture of single texts.” It is just as prominent, and quite as mischievous, in Hilary and Augustine, in Albert and Aquinas, in Gerhard and Calovius, as in Hillel or Ishmael. Hillel was personally a noble Rabbi; yet by his seven rules he became the founder of Talmudism, with all its pettiness, its perversion of the letter of the Scripture which it professed to worship, and its ignorance of the spirit, of which no breath seemed to breathe over its valley of dry bones." -Page 21 From this point he provides several examples of what he considers false exegesis centered around the first several verses of Genesis 1 —while the author's discussion around these verses is good, he supports those who find long ages of time in the text. The next chapter is actually more useful; Dr. Farrar works through the history of Rabbinic exegesis, going back to the days of Ezra the Scribe. For those who haven't considered this historical precedent, and the impact these scribes had on Christian thinking and hermeneutics, this section is worth looking through. From here, the author works through Alexandrian thinking, the Church Fathers (the Patristics), the Scholastics (Aquinas is covered here, for instance), the Reformers (Calvin is in this lecture), the Post Reformation thinkers, and finally modern interpreters. Dr. Farrar defends a rather more loose view of inspiration than many modern scholars in the conservative world might be comfortable with. He is good at pointing out the excesses of wooden literalism, and the inevitable result of allegorizing the text, such as in this passage: "One of these, and the source of all the rest, was a vague, superstitious, unproved, and purely traditional conception of inspiration. It was confused with verbal dictation, and the Bible was turned into an amulet or fetish with which the hierarchy, which arrogantly usurped the name of “the Church,” could do as they liked." -Page 283 But he sometimes drives over the other side of the mountain in his quest, seeming to advocate a rather spiritualist and imprecise view of God's providence in forming the Scriptures. The book itself is somewhat difficult to read; examples tend to pile up mercilessly. This might be because it was originally delivered as a lecture, but it also relates to the time in which the author wrote. Recommended as a resource, and particularly for the overall view of each time period, especially the Rabbinical scribes. On the other hand, this probably isn't a book you want to sit and read cover to cover (or bit to bit, as the case might be).


Digital list price: $16.49
Save $4.00 (24%)