How have Baptists historically approached the interpretation of scripture? How did they view scripture and its authority, and what rules and precedents have they followed as they sought to find meaning in the text? The Enlightenment trends of individual liberty and higher criticism have influenced many Baptists toward an individualistic and/or a higher critical hermeneutic. But this was not always the pattern for Baptists. John Gill provides an example of a Baptist who interpreted the scriptures in line with a classical hermeneutic that held to the authority of the Bible and interpreted the Old Testament Christologically with spiritual aims.
To demonstrate this thesis, this paper will focus on John Gill’s interpretation of the Song of Solomon. It will briefly demonstrate the growing individualism and skepticism of Gill’s day that began influencing how interpreters approached the Song. Then, it will seek to relate how Gill assumed a classical hermeneutic in his approach to the Song. Patrick Schreiner’s criteria for what constitutes classical interpretation will be selectively adapted in order to determine the extent of Gill’s use of a classical hermeneutic, demonstrating that Gill approached the Song of Solomon from a foundational understanding of the authority of scripture and interpreted it Christologically with spiritual aims. Along the way, Gill’s use of Patristic sources to support his interpretation will also demonstrate his self-conscious effort to interpret the Song in a classical way which contradicted the hermeneutical approaches of those who embraced the individualism and higher criticism of the Enlightenment.