chapter  7
6 Pages

The Self-Interpreting Bible

In 1778, the Scottish Divine John Brown published his most successful work, The Self-Interpreting Bible. Brown was a well-known and popular preacher. According to a family legend, David Hume had said of him, “That’s the man for me, he means what he says; he speaks as if Jesus Christ was at his elbow.”2 The Self-Interpreting Bible was meant for laypeople and was designed to prove that one did not need a shelf-full of commentaries in order to understand Holy Writ. All one needed was a bible. Instead, the “self” in self-interpreting was Brown. One learns more about what Brown believed in his footnotes and comments than what the Bible teaches. A prime example is his note for Genesis 9.25 quoted above. That Brown saw cursed Africans in Genesis 9 and believed that this was self-evident interpretation makes him neither unique nor original. Genesis 9 became a mirror that reflected back not what the text said but what the interpreter wanted or expected to see. The men and women discussed in this book saw many different images in Genesis 9; some saw a slave, others a serf, some a king or a god, but by the eighteenth century everyone saw a black African. The ways in which they described Ham and used him to further arguments allow us to draw some final conclusions.