What is the meaning of Higher Criticism? Why is it called higher? Higher than what?
At the outset it must be explained that the word "Higher" is an academic term, used in this connection in a purely special or technical sense. It is not used in the popular sense of the word at all, and may convey a wrong impression to the ordinary man. Nor is it meant to convey the idea of superiority. It is simply a term of contrast. It is used in contrast to the phrase, "Lower Criticism."
One of the most important branches of theology is called the science of Biblical criticism, which has for its object the study of the history and contents, and origins and purposes, of the various books of the Bible. In the early stages of the science Biblical criticism was devoted to two great branches, the Lower, and the Higher. The Lower Criticism was employed to designate the study of the text of the Scripture, and included the investigation of the manuscripts, and the different readings in the various versions and codices and manuscripts in order that we may be sure we have the original words as they were written by the Divinely inspired writers. (See Briggs, Hex., page 1.) The term generally used now-a-days is Textual Criticism. If the phrase were used in the twentieth century sense, Beza, Erasmus, Bengel, Griesbach, Lachmann, Tregelles, Tischendorff, Scrivener, Westcott, and Hort would be called Lower Critics. But the term is not now-a-days used as a rule. The Higher Criticism, on the contrary, was employed to designate the study of the historic origins, the dates, and authorship of the various books of the Bible, and that great branch of study which in the technical language of modern theology is known as Introduction. It is a very valuable branch of Biblical science, and is of the highest importance as an auxiliary in the interpretation of the Word of God. By its researches floods of light may be thrown on the Scriptures.
The term Higher Criticism, then means nothing more than the study of the literary structure of the various books of the Bible, and more especially of the Old Testament. Now this in itself is most laudable. It is indispensable. It is just such work as every minister or Sunday School teacher does when he takes up his Peloubet's Notes, or his Stalker's St. Paul, or Geikie's Hours with the Bible, to find out all he can with regard to the portion of the Bible he is studying; the author, the date, the circumstances, and purpose of its writing.
Why is Higher Criticism Identified with Unbelief?
How is it, then, that the Higher Criticism has become identified in the popular mind with attacks upon the Bible and the supernatural character of the Holy Scriptures?
The reason is this. No study perhaps requires so devout a spirit and so exalted a faith in the supernatural as the pursuit of the Higher Criticism. It demands at once the ability of the scholar, and the simplicity of the believing child of God. For without faith no one can explain the Holy Scriptures, and without scholarship no one can investigate historic origins.
There is a Higher Criticism that is at once reverent in tone and scholarly in work. Hengstenberg, the German, and Horne, the Englishman, may be taken as examples. Perhaps the greatest work in English on the Higher Criticism is Horne's Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scripture. It is a work that is simply massive in its scholarship, and invaluable in its vast reach of information for the study of the Holy Scriptures. But Horne's Introduction is too large a work. It is too cumbrous for use in this hurrying age. (Carter's edition in two volumes contains 1,149 pages, and in ordinary book form would contain over 4,000 pages, i.e., about ten volumes of 400 pages each.) Latterly, however, it has been edited by Dr. Samuel Davidson, who practically adopted the views of Hupfield and Halle and interpolated not a few of the modern German theories. But Horne's work from first to last is the work of a Christian believer; constructive, not destructive; fortifying faith in the Bible, not rationalistic. But the work of the Higher Critic has not always been pursued in a reverent spirit nor in the spirit of scientific and Christian scholarship.
In the first place, the critics who were the leaders, the men who have given name and force to the whole movement, have been men who have based their theories largely upon their own subjective conclusions. They have based their conclusions largely upon the very dubious basis of the author's style and supposed literary qualifications. Everybody knows that style is a very unsafe basis for the determination of a literary product. The greater the writer the more versatile his power of expression; and anybody can understand that the Bible is the last book in the world to be studied as a mere classic by mere human scholarship without any regard to the spirit of sympathy and reverence on the part of the student. The Bible, as has been said, has no revelation to make to un-Biblical minds. It does not even follow that because a man is a philological expert he is able to understand the integrity or credibility of a passage of Holy Scripture any more than the beauty and spirit of it.
The qualification for the perception of Biblical truth is neither philosophic nor philological knowledge, but spiritual insight. The primary qualification of the musician is that he be musical; of the artist, that he have the spirit of art. So the merely technical and mechanical and scientific mind is disqualified for the recognition of the spiritual and infinite. Any thoughtful man must honestly admit that the Bible is to be treated as unique in literature, and, therefore, that the ordinary rules of critical interpretation must fail to interpret it aright.
In the second place, some of the most powerful exponents of the modern Higher Critical theories have been Germans, and it is notorious to what length the German fancy can go in the direction of the subjective and of the conjectural. For hypothesis-weaving and speculation, the German theological professor is unsurpassed. One of the foremost thinkers used to lay it down as a fundamental truth in philosophical and scientific enquiries that no regard whatever should be paid to the conjectures or hypotheses of thinkers, and quoted as an axiom the great Newton himself and his famous words, "Non fingo hypotheses": I do not frame hypotheses. It is notorious that some of the most learned German thinkers are men who lack in a singular degree the faculty of common sense and knowledge of human nature. Like many physical scientists, they are so preoccupied with a theory that their conclusions seem to the average mind curiously warped. In fact, learned man in a letter to Descartes once made an observation which, with slight verbal alteration, might be applied to some of the German critics: "When men sitting in their closet and consulting only their books attempt disquisitions into the Bible, they may indeed tell how they would have made the Book if God had indeed given them that commission. That is , they may describe chimeras which correspond to the fatuity of their own minds, but without an understanding truly Divine they can never form such and idea to themselves as the Deity had in creating it." "If," says Matthew Arnold, "You shut a number of men up to make study and learning the business of their lives, how many of them, from want of some discipline or other, seem to lose all balance of judgment, all common sense."
The learned professor of Assyriology at Oxford said that the investigation of the literary source of history has been a peculiarly German pastime. It deals with the writers and readers of the ancient Orient as if they were modern German professors, and the attempt to transform the ancient Israelites into somewhat inferior German compilers, proves a strange want of familiarity with Oriental modes of thought. (Sayce, "Early History of the Hebrews," pages 108-112)
In the third place, the dominant men of the movement were men with a strong bias against the supernatural. This is not an ex-parte statement at all. It is simply a matter of fact, as we shall presently show. Some of the men who have been most distinguished as the leaders of the Higher Critical movement in Germany and Holland have been men who have no faith in the God of the Bible, and no faith in either the necessity or the possibility of a personal supernatural revelation. The men who have been the voices of the movement, of whom the great majority, less widely known and less influential, have been mere echoes; the men who manufactured the articles the others distributed, have been notoriously opposed to the miraculous.
We must not be misunderstood. We distinctly repudiate the idea that all the Higher Critics were or are anti-supernaturalists. Not so. The British-American School embraces within its ranks many earnest believers. What we do say, as we will presently show, is that the dominant minds which have led and swayed the movement, who made the theories that the others circulated, were strongly unbelieving.
Then the higher critical movement has not followed its true and original purposes in investigating The Scriptures for the purposes of confirming faith and of helping believers to understand the beauties, and appreciate the circumstances of the origin of the various books, and so understand more completely the Bible?
No. It has not; unquestionably it has not. It has been deflected from that, largely owing to the character of the men whose ability and forcefulness have given predominance to their views. It has become identified with a system of criticism which is based on hypotheses and suppositions which have for their object the repudiation of the traditional theory, and has investigated the origins and forms and styles and contents, apparently not to confirm the authenticity and credibility and reliability of the Scriptures, but to discredit in most cases their genuineness, to discover discrepancies, and throw doubt upon their authority.
The Origin of the Movement
Who, then, were the men whose views have moulded the views of the leading teachers and writers of the Higher Critical school of today?
We will answer this as briefly as possible.
It is not easy to say who is the first so-called Higher Critic, or when the movement began. But it is not modern by any means. Broadly speaking, it has passed through three great stages:
- The French-Dutch.
- The German.
- The British-American.
In its origin it was Franco-Dutch, and speculative, if not skeptical. The views which are now accepted as axiomatic by the Continental and British-American Schools of Higher Criticism seem to have been first hinted at by Carlstadt in 1521 in his work on the Canon of Scripture, and by Andreas Masius, a Belgian scholar, who published a commentary on Joshua in 1574, and a Roman Catholic priest, called Peyrere or Pererius, in his Systematic Theology, 1660. (LIV. Cap. i.)
But it may really be said to have originated with Spinoza, the rationalist Dutch philosopher. In his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (Cap. vii-viii), 1670, Spinoza came out boldly and impugned the traditional date and Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and ascribed the origin of the Pentateuch to Ezra or to some other late compiler.
Spinoza was really the fountain-head of the movement, and his line was taken in England by the British philosopher Hobbes. He went deeper than Spinoza, as an outspoken antagonist of the necessity and possibility of a personal revelation, and also denied the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. A few years later a French priest, called Richard Simon of Dieppe, pointed out the supposed varieties of style as indications of various authors in his Historical Criticism of the Old Testament, "an epoch-making work." Then another Dutchman, named Clericus (or Le Clerk), in 1685, advocated still more radical views, suggesting an Exilian and priestly authorship for the Pentateuch, and that the Pentateuch was composed by the priest sent from Babylon (2 Kings, 17), about 678, B.C., and also a kind of later editor or redactor theory. Clericus is said to have been the first critic who set forth the theory that Christ and his Apostles did not come into the world to teach the Jews criticism, and that it is only to be expected that their language would be in accordance with the views of the day.
In 1753 a Frenchman named Astruc, a medical man, and reputedly a free-thinker of profligate life, propounded for the first time the Jehovistic and Elohistic divisive hypothesis, and opened a new era. (Briggs' Higher Criticism of the Pentateuch, page 46) Astruc said that the use of the two names, Jehovah and Elohim, shewed the book was composed of different documents. (The idea of the Holy Ghost employing two words, or one here and another there, or both together as He wills, never seems to enter the thought of the Higher Critic!) His work was called "Conjectures Regarding the Original Memoirs in the Book of Genesis," and was published in Brussels.
Astruc may be called the father of the documentary theories. He asserted there are traces of no less than ten or twelve different memoirs in the book of Genesis. He denied its Divine authority, and considered the book to be disfigured by useless repetitions, disorder, and contradiction. (Hirschfelder, page 66.) For fifty years Astruc's theory was unnoticed. The rationalism of Germany was as yet undeveloped, so that the body was not yet prepared to receive the germ, or the soil the weed.
The German Critics
The next stage was largely German. Eichhorn is the greatest name in this period, the eminent Oriental professor at Gottingen who published his work on the Old Testament introduction in 1780. He put into different shape the documentary hypothesis of the Frenchman, and did his work so ably that his views were generally adopted by the most distinguished scholars. Eichhorn's formative influence has been incalculably great. Few scholars refused to do honor to the new sun. It is through him that the name Higher Criticism has become identifies with the movement. He was followed by Vater and later by Hartmann with their fragment theory which practically undermined the Mosaic authorship, made the Pentateuch a heap of fragments, carelessly joined by one editor, and paved the way for the most radical of all divisive hypotheses.
In 1806 De Wette, Professor of Philosophy and Theology at Heidelberg, published a work which ran through six editions in four decades. His contribution to the introduction of the Old Testament instilled the same general principles as Eichhorn, and in the supplemental hypotheses assumed that Deuteronomy was composed in the age of Josiah (2 Kings 22:8). Not long after, Vatke and Leopold George (both Hegelians) unreservedly declared the post-Mosaic and post-prophetic origin of the first four books of the Bible. Then came Bleek, who advocated the idea of the Grundschift or original document and the redactor theory; and then Ewald, the father of the Crystallization theory; and then Hupfield (1853), who held that the original document was an independent compilation; and Graf, who wrote a book on the historical books of the Old Testament in 1866 and advocated the theory that the Jehovistic and Elohistic documents were written hundreds of years after Moses' time. Graf was a pupil of Reuss, the redactor of the Ezra hypothesis of Spinoza.
Then came a most influential writer, Professor Kuenen of Leyden in Holland, whose work on the Hexateuch was edited by Colenso in 1865, and his "Religion of Israel and Prophecy in Israel," published in England in 1874-1877. Kuenen was one of the most advanced exponents of the rationalistic school. Last, but not least, of the continental Higher Critics is Julius Wellhausen, who at one time was a theological professor in Germany, who published in 1878 the first volume of his history of Israel, and won by his scholarship the attention if not the allegiance of a number of leading theologians. (see Higher Criticism of the Pentateuch, Green, pages 59-88.)
It will be observed that nearly all these authors were Germans, and most of them professors of philosophy or theology.
The British-American Critics
The third stage of the movement is the British-American. The best known names are those of Dr. Samuel Davidson, whose "Introduction to the Old Testament," published in 1862, was largely based on the fallacies of the German rationalists. The supplementary hypothesis passed over into England through him and with strange incongruity, he borrowed frequently from Baur. Dr. Robertson Smith, the Scotchman, recast the German theories in an English form in his works on the Pentateuch, the Prophets of Israel, and the Old Testament in the Jewish Church, first published in 1881, and followed the German school, according to Briggs, with great boldness and thoroughness. A man of deep piety and high spirituality, he combined with a sincere regard for the Word of God a critical radicalism that was strangely inconsistent, as did also his namesake, George Adam Smith, the most influential of the present-day leaders, a man of great insight and scriptural acumen, who in his works on Isaiah, and the twelve prophets, adopted some of the most radical and least demonstrable of the German theories, and in his later work, "Modern Criticism and the Teaching of the Old Testament," has gone still farther in the rationalistic direction.
Another well-known Higher Critic is Dr. S.R. Driver, the Regius professor of Hebrew at Oxford, who, in his "Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament," published ten years later, and his work on the Book of Genesis, has elaborated with remarkable skill and great detail of analysis the theories and views of the continental school. Driver's work is able, very able, but it lacks originality and English independence. The hand is the hand of Driver, but the voice is the voice of Kuenen or Wellhausen.
The third well-known name is that of Dr. C.A. Briggs, for some time Professor of Biblical Theology in the Union Theological Seminary of New York. An equally earnest advocate of the German theories, he published in 1883 his "Biblical Study"; in 1886, his "Messianic Prophecy," and a little later his "Higher Criticism of the Hexateuch." Briggs studied the Pentateuch, as he confesses, under the guidance chiefly of Ewald. (Hexateuch, page 63.)
Of course, this list is a very partial one, but it gives most of the names that have become famous in connection with the movement, and the reader who desires more will find a complete summary of the literature of the Higher Criticism in Professor Bissell's work on the Pentateuch (Scribner's 1892). Briggs, in his "Higher Criticism of the Hexateuch" (Scribner's 1897), gives an historical summary also.
We must now investigate another question, and that is the religious views of the men most influential in this movement. In making the statement that we are about to make, we desire to deprecate entirely the idea of there being anything uncharitable, unfair, or unkind, in stating what is simply a matter of fact.
The Views of the Continental Critics
Regarding the views of the Continental Critics, three things can be confidently asserted of nearly all, if not all, of the real leaders.
1. They were men who denied the validity of miracle, and the validity of any miraculous narrative. What Christians consider to be miraculous they considered legendary or mythical; "legendary exaggeration of events that are entirely explicable from natural causes."
2. They were men who denied the reality of prophecy and the validity of any prophetical statement. What Christians have been accustomed to consider prophetical, they called dexterous conjectures, coincidences, fiction, or imposture.
3. They were men who denied the reality of revelation, in the sense in which it has ever been held by the universal Christian Church. They were avowed unbelievers of the supernatural. Their theories were excogitated on pure grounds of human reasoning. Their hypotheses were constructed on the assumption of the falsity of Scripture. As to the inspiration of the Bible, as to the Holy Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation being the Word of God, they had no such belief. We may take them one by one. Spinoza repudiated absolutely a supernatural revelation. And Spinoza was one of their greatest. Eichhorn discarded the miraculous, and considered that the so-called supernatural element was an Oriental exaggeration; and Eichhorn has been called the father of Higher Criticism, and was the first man to use the term. De Wette's views as to inspiration were entirely infidel. Vatke and Leopold George were Hegelian rationalists, and regarded the first four books of the Old Testament as entirely mythical. Kuenen, says Professor Sanday, wrote in the interests of an almost avowed Naturalism. That is, he was a freethinker, an agnostic; a man who did not believe in the Revelation of the one true and living God. (Brampton Lectures, 1893, page 117.) He wrote from an avowedly naturalistic standpoint, says Driver (page 205). According to Wellhausen the religion of Israel was a naturalistic evolution from heathendom, an emanation from an imperfectly monotheistic kind of semi-pagan idolatry. It was simply a human religion.
The Leaders were Rationalists
In one word, the formative forces of the Higher Critical movement were rationalistic forces, and the men who were its chief authors and expositors, who "on account of purely philological criticism have acquired an appalling authority," were men who had discarded belief in God and Jesus Christ Whom He had sent. The Bible, in their view, was a mere human product. It was a stage in the literary evolution of a religious people. If it was not the resultant of a fortuitous concourse of Oriental myths and legendary accretions, and its Jahveh or Jahweh, the excogitation of a Sinaitic clan, it certainly was not given by the inspiration of God, and is not the Word of the living God. "Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost," said Peter. "God, who at sundry times and in diverse manners spake by the prophets," said Paul. Not so, said Kuenen; the prophets were not moved to speak by God. Their utterances were all their own. (Sanday, page 117.)
These then were their views and these were the views that have so dominated modern Christianity and permeated modern ministerial thought in the two great languages of the modern world. We cannot say that they were men whose rationalism was the result of their conclusions in the study of the Bible. Nor can we say their conclusions with regard to the Bible were wholly the result of their rationalism. But we can say, on the one hand, that inasmuch as they refused to recognize the Bible as a direct revelation from God, they were free to form hypotheses ad libitum. And, on the other hand, as they denied the supernatural, the animus that animated them in the construction of the hypotheses was the desire to construct a theory that would explain away the supernatural. Unbelief was the antecedent, not the consequent, of their criticism.
Now there is nothing unkind in this. There is nothing that is uncharitable, or unfair. It is simply a statement of fact which modern authorities most freely admit.
The School of Compromise
When we come to the English-writing Higher Critics, we approach a much more difficult subject. The British-American Higher Critics represent a school of compromise. On the one hand they practically accept the premises of the Continental school with regard to the antiquity, authorship, authenticity, and origins of the Old Testament books. On the other hand, they refuse to go with the German rationalists in altogether denying their inspiration. They still claim to accept the Scriptures as containing a Revelation from God. But may they not hold their own peculiar views with regard to the origin and date and literary structure of the Bible without endangering either their own faith or the faith of Christians? This is the very heart of the question, and, in order that the reader may see the seriousness of the adoption of the conclusions of the critics, as brief a resume as possible of the matter will be given.
The Point in a Nutshell
According to the faith of the universal church, the Pentateuch, that is, the first five books of the Bible, is one consistent, coherent, authentic and genuine composition, inspired by God, and, according to the testimony of the Jews, the statements of the books themselves, the reiterated corroborations of the rest of the Old Testament, and the explicit statement of the Lord Jesus (Luke 24:44, John 5:46-47) was written by Moses (with the exception, of course, of Deut. 34, possibly written by Joshua, as the Talmud states, or probably by Ezra) at a period of about fourteen centuries before the advent of Christ, and 800 years or so before Jeremiah. It is, moreover, a portion of the Bible that is of paramount importance, for it is the basic substratum of the whole revelation of God, and of paramount value, not because it is merely the literature of an ancient nation, but because it is the introductory section of the Word of God, bearing His authority and given by inspiration through His servant Moses. That is the faith of the Church.
The Critics' Theory
But according to the Higher Critics:
1. The Pentateuch consists of four completely diverse documents. These completely different documents were the primary sources of the composition which they call the Hexateuch: (a) The Yahwist or Jahwist, (b) the Elohist, (c) the Deuteronomist, and (d) the Priestly code, the Grundschift, the work of the first Elohist (Sayce Hist. Heb., 103), now generally known as J. E. D. P., and for convenience designated by these symbols.
2. These different works were composed at various periods of time, not in the fifteenth century, B.C., but in the ninth, seventh, sixth and fifth centuries; J. and E. being referred approximately to about 800 to 700 B.C.; D to about 650 to 625 B.C., and P. to about 525 to 425 B.C. According to the Graf theory, accepted by Kuenen, the Elohist documents were post-exilian, that is, they were written only five centuries or so before Christ. Genesis and Exodus as well as the Priestly Code, that is Leviticus and part of Exodus and Numbers were also post-exilic.
3. These different works, moreover, represent different traditions of the national life of the Hebrews, and are at variance in most important particulars.
4. And, further. They conjecture that these four suppositive documents were not compiled and written by Moses, but were probably constructed somewhat after this fashion: For some reason, and at some time, and in some way, some one, no one knows who, or why, or when, or where, wrote J. Then someone else, no one knows who, or why, or when, or where, wrote another document, which is now called E. And then at a later time, the critics only know who, or why, or when, or where, an anonymous personage, whom we may call Redactor I, took in hand the reconstruction of these documents, introduced new material, harmonized the real and apparent discrepancies, and divided the inconsistent accounts of one event into two separate transactions. Then some time after this, perhaps one hundred years or more, no one knows who, or why, or when, or where, some anonymous personage wrote another document, which they style D. And after a while another anonymous author, no one knows who, or why, or when, or where, whom we will call Redactor II, took this in hand, compared it with J.E., revised J.E., with considerable freedom, and in addition introduced quite a body of new material. Then someone else, no one knows who, or why, or when, or where, probably, however, about 525, or perhaps 425, wrote P.; and then another anonymous Hebrew, whom we may call Redactor III, undertook to incorporate this with the triplicated composite J.E.D., with what they call redactional additions and insertions. (Green, page 88, cf. Sayce, Early History of the Hebrews, pages 100-105.)
It may be well to state at this point that this is not an exaggerated statement of the Higher Critical position. On the contrary, we have given here what has been described as a position "established by proofs, valid and cumulative" and "representing the most sober scholarship." The more advanced continental Higher Critics, Green says, distinguish the writers of the primary sources according to the supposed elements as J1 and J2, E1 and E2, P1, P2 and P3, and D1 and D2, nine different originals in all. The different Redactors, technically described by the symbol R., are Rj., who combined J. and E.; Rd., who added D. to J.,E., and Rh., who completed the Hexateuch by combining P. with J.E.D. (H.C. of the Pentateuch, page 88.)
A Discredited Pentateuch
5. These four suppositive documents are, moreover, alleged to be internally inconsistent and undoubtedly incomplete. How far they are incomplete they do not agree. How much is missing and when, where, how and by whom it was removed; whether it was some thief who stole, or copyist who tampered, or editor who falsified, they do not declare.
6. In this redactory process no limit apparently is assigned by the critic to the work of the redactors. With an utter irresponsibility of freedom it is declared that they inserted misleading statements with the purpose of reconciling incompatible traditions; that they amalgamated what should have been distinguished, and sundered that which should have been amalgamated. In one word, it is an axiomatic principle of the divisive hypothesizers that the redactors, "have not only misapprehended, but misrepresented the originals" (Green, page 170). They were animated by "egotistical motives." They confused varying accounts, and erroneously ascribed them to different occasions. They not only gave false and colored impressions; they destroyed valuable elements of the suppositive documents and tampered with the dismantled remnant.
7. And worst of all. The Higher Critics are unanimous in the conclusion that these documents contain three species of material:
- The probably true.
- The certainly doubtful.
- The positively spurious.
"The narratives of the Pentateuch are usually trustworthy, though partly mythical and legendary. The miracles recorded were the exaggerations of a later age." (Davidson, Introduction, page 131.) The framework of the first eleven chapters of Genesis says George Adam Smith in his "Modern Criticism and the Preaching of the Old Testament," is woven from the raw material of myth and legend. He denies their historical character, and says that he can find no proof in archaeology for the personal existence of characters of the Patriarchs themselves. Later on, however, in a fit of apologetic repentance he makes the condescending admission that it is extremely probable that the stories of the Patriarchs have at the heart of them historical elements. (Pages 90-106)
Such is the view of the Pentateuch that is accepted as conclusive by "the sober scholarship" of a number of the leading theological writers and professors of the day. It is to this the Higher Criticism reduces what the Lord Jesus called the writings of Moses.
A Discredited Old Testament
As to the rest of the Old Testament, it may be briefly said that they have dealt with it with an equally confusing hand. The time-honored traditions of the Catholic Church are set at naught, and its thesis of the relation of inspiration and genuineness and authenticity derided. As to the Psalms, the harp that was once believed to be the harp of David was not handled by the sweet Psalmist of Israel, but generally by some anonymous post-exilist; and Psalms that are ascribed to David by the omniscient Lord Himself are daringly attributed to some anonymous Maccabean. Ecclesiastes, written, nobody knows when, where, and by whom, possesses just a possible grade of inspiration, though one of the critics "of cautious and well balanced judgment" denies that it contains any at all. "Of course," says another, "it is not really the work of Solomon." (Driver, Introduction, page 470) The Song of Songs is an idyll of human love, and nothing more. There is no inspiration in it; it contributes nothing to the sum of revelation. (Sanday, page 211.) Esther, too, adds nothing to the sum of revelation, and is not historical (page 213). Isaiah was, of course, written by a number of authors. The first part, chapters 1 to 40, by Isaiah; the second by a Deutero-Isaiah and a number of anonymous authors. As to Daniel, it was a purely pseudonymous work, written probably in the second century B.C.
With regard to the New Testament: The English writing school have hitherto confined themselves mainly to the Old Testament, but if Professor Sanday, who passes as a most conservative and moderate representative of the critical school, can be taken as a sample, the historical books are "yet in the first instance strictly histories, put together by ordinary historical methods, or, in so far as the methods on which they are composed, are not ordinary, due rather to the peculiar circumstances of the case, and not to influences, which need be specially described as supernatural" (page 399). The Second Epistle of Peter is pseudonymous, its name counterfeit, and, therefore, a forgery, just as large parts of Isaiah, Zachariah and Jonah, and Proverbs were supposititious and quasi-fraudulent documents. This is a straightforward statement of the position taken by what is called the moderate school of Higher Criticism. It is their own admitted position, according to their own writings.
The difficulty, therefore, that presents itself to the average man of today is this: How can these critics still claim to believe in the Bible as the Christian Church has ever believed it?
A Discredited Bible
There can be no doubt that Christ and His Apostles accepted the whole of the Old Testament as inspired in every portion of every part; from the first chapter of Genesis to the last chapter of Malachi, all was implicitly believed to be the very Word of God Himself. And ever since their day the view of the Universal Christian Church has been that the Bible is the Word of God; as the twentieth article of the Anglican Church terms it, it is God's Word written. The Bible as a whole is inspired. "All that is written is God-inspired." That is, the Bible does not merely contain the Word of God; it is the Word of God. It contains a revelation. "All is not revealed, but all is inspired." This is the conservative and, up to the present day, the almost universal view of the question. There are, it is well known, many theories of inspiration. But whatever view or theory of inspiration men may hold, plenary, verbal, dynamical, mechanical, superintendent, or governmental, they refer either to the inspiration of the men who wrote, or to the inspiration of what is written. In one word, they imply throughout the work of God the Holy Ghost, and are bound up with the concomitant ideas of authority, veracity, reliability, and truth divine. (The two strongest works on the subject from this standpoint are by Gaussen and Lee. Gaussen on the Theopneustia is published in an American edition by Hitchcock & Walden, of Cincinnati; and Lee on the Inspiration of Holy Scripture is published by Rivingtons. Bishop Wordsworth, on the "Inspiration of the Bible," is also very scholarly and strong. Rivingtons, 1875.)
The Bible can no longer, according to the critics, be viewed in this light. It is not the Word in the old sense of that term. It is not the Word of God in the sense that all of it is given by inspiration of God. It simply contains the Word of God. In many of its parts it is just as uncertain as any other human book. It is not even reliable history. Its records of what it does narrate as ordinary history are full of falsifications and blunders. The origin of Deuteronomy, e.g., was "a consciously refined falsification." (See Moller, page 207.)
The Real Difficulty
But do they still claim to believe that the Bible is inspired? Yes. That is, in a measure. As Dr. Driver says in his preface, "Criticism in the hands of Christian scholars does not banish or destroy the inspiration of the Old Testament; it pre-supposes it." That is perfectly true. Criticism in the hands of Christian scholars is safe. But the preponderating scholarship in Old Testament criticism has admittedly not been in the hands of men who could be described as Christian scholars. It has been in the hands of men who disavow belief in God and Jesus Christ Whom He sent. Criticism in the hands of Horne and Hengstenberg does not banish or destroy the inspiration of the Old Testament. But, in the hands of Spinoza, and Graf, and Wellhausen, and Kuenen, inspiration is neither pre-supposed nor possible. Dr. Briggs and Dr. Smith may avow earnest avowals of belief in the Divine character of the Bible, and Dr. Driver may assert that critical conclusions do not touch either authority or the inspiration of the Scriptures of the Old Testament, but from first to last, they treat God's Word with an indifference almost equal to that of the Germans. They certainly handle the Old Testament as if it were ordinary literature. And in all their theories they seem like plastic wax in the hands of the rationalistic moulders. But they still claim to believe in Biblical inspiration.
A Revolutionary Theory
Their theory of inspiration must be, then, a very different one from that held by the average Christian.
In the Bampton Lectures for 1903, Professor Sanday of Oxford, as the exponent of the later and more conservative school of Higher Criticism, came out with a theory which he termed the inductive theory. It is not easy to describe what is fully meant by this, but it appears to mean the presence of what they call "a divine element" in certain parts of the Bible. What that really is he does not accurately declare. The language always vapours off into the vague and indefinite, whenever he speaks of it. In what books it is he does not say. "It is present in different books and parts of books in different degrees." "In some the Divine element is at the maximum; in others at the minimum." He is not always sure. He is sure it is not in Esther, in Ecclesiastes, in Daniel. If it is in the historical books, it is there as conveying a religious lesson rather than as a guarantee of historic veracity, rather as interpreting than as narrating. At the same time, if the histories as far as textual construction was concerned were "natural processes carried out naturally," it is difficult to see where the Divine or supernatural element comes in. It is an inspiration which seems to have been devised as a hypothesis of compromise. In fact, it is a tenuous, equivocal, and indeterminate something, the amount of which is as indefinite as its quality. (Sanday, pages 100-398; cf. Driver, Preface, ix.)
But its most serious feature is this: It is theory of inspiration that completely overturns the old-fashioned ideas of the Bible and its unquestioned standard of authority and truth. For whatever this so-called Divine element is, it appears to be quite consistent with defective argument, incorrect interpretation, if not what the average man would call forgery or falsification.
It is, in fact, revolutionary. To accept it the Christian will have to completely readjust his ideas of honor and honesty, of falsehood and misrepresentation. Men used to think that forgery was a crime, and falsification a sin. Pusey, in his great work on Daniel, said that "to write a book under the name of another and to give it out to be his is in any case a forgery, dishonest in itself and destructive of all trustworthiness." (Pusey, Lectures on Daniel, page 1.) But according to the Higher Critical position, all sorts of pseudonymous material, and not a little of it believed to be true by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, is to be found in the Bible, and not antecedent objection ought to be taken to it.
Men used to think that inaccuracy would affect reliability and that proven inconsistencies would imperil credibility. But now it appears that there may not only be mistakes and errors on the part of copyists, but forgeries, intentional omissions, and misinterpretations on the part of authors, and yet, marvelous to say, faith is not to be destroyed, but to be placed on a firmer foundation. (Sanday, page 122.) They have, according to Briggs, enthroned the Bible in higher position than ever before. (Briggs, "The Bible, Church and Reason," page 149.) Sanday admits that there is an element in the Pentateuch derived from Moses himself. An element! But he adds, "However much we may believe that there is a genuine Mosaic foundation in the Pentateuch, it is difficult to lay the finger upon it, and to say with confidence, here Moses himself is speaking." "the strictly Mosaic element in the Pentateuch must be indeterminate." "We ought not, perhaps, to use them (the visions of Ex. 3 and 33) without reserve for Moses himself" (pages 172-174-176). The ordinary Christian, however, will say: Surely if we deny the Mosaic authorship and the unity of the Pentateuch we must undermine its credibility. The Pentateuch claims to be Mosaic. It was the universal tradition of the Jews. It is expressly stated in nearly all the subsequent books of the Old Testament. The Lord Jesus said so most explicitly. (John 5:46-47.)
If not Moses, Who?
For this thought must surely follow to the thoughtful man: If Moses did not write the Books of Moses, who did?
If there were three or four, or six, or nine authorized original writers, why not fourteen, or sixteen, or nineteen? And then another and more serious thought must follow that. Who were these original writers, and who originated them? If there were manifest evidences of alterations, manipulations, inconsistencies and omissions by an indeterminate number of unknown and unknowable and undateable redactors, then the question arises, who were these redactors, and how far had they authority to redact, and who gave them this authority? If the redactor was the writer, was he an inspired writer, and if he was inspired, what was the degree of his inspiration; was it partial, plenary, inductive or indeterminate? This is a question of questions: What is the guarantee of the inspiration of the redactor, and who is its guarantor? Moses we know, and Samuel we know, and Daniel we know, but ye anonymous and pseudonymous, who are ye? The Pentateuch, with Mosaic authorship, as Scriptural, divinely accredited, is upheld by Catholic tradition and scholarship, and appeals to reason. But a mutilated cento or scrap-book of anonymous complications, with its pre- and post- exilic redactors and redactions, is confusion worse confounded.
At least that is the way it appears to the average Christian. He may not be an expert in philosophy or theology, but his common sense must surely be allowed its right. And that is the way it appears, too, to such an illustrious scholar and critic as Dr. Emil Reich. (Contemporary Review, April, 1905, page 515.)
It is not possible then to accept the Kuenen-Wellhausen theory of the structure of the Old Testament and the Sanday-Driver theory of its inspiration without undermining faith in the Bible as the Word of God. For the Bible is either the Word of God, or it is not. The children of Israel were the children of the Only Living and True God, or they were not. If their Jehovah was a mere tribal deity, and their religion a human evolution; if their sacred literature was natural with mythical and pseudonymous admixtures; then the Bible is dethroned from its throne as the exclusive, authoritative, Divinely inspired Word of God. It simply ranks as one of the sacred books of the ancients with similar claims of inspiration and revelation. Its inspiration is an indeterminate quantity and any man has a right to subject it to the judgment of his own critical insight, and to receive just as much of it as inspired as he or some other person believes to be inspired. When the contents have passed through the sieve of his judgment the inspired residuum may be large, or the inspired residuum may be small. If he is a conservative critic it may be fairly large, a maximum; if he is a more advanced critic it may be fairly small, a minimum. It is simply the ancient literature of a religious people containing somewhere the Word of God; "a revelation of no one knows what, made no one knows how, and lying no one knows where, except that it is to be somewhere between Genesis and Revelation, but probably to the exclusion of both." (Pusey, Daniel, xxviii.)
No Final Authority
Another serious consequence of the Higher Critical movement is that it threatens the Christian system of doctrine and the whole fabric of systematic theology. For up to the present time any text from any part of the Bible was accepted as a proof-text for the establishment of any truth of Christian teaching, and a statement from the Bible was considered an end of controversy. The doctrinal systems of the Anglican, the Presbyterian, the Methodist and other Churches are all based upon the view that the Bible contains the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. (See 39 Articles Church of England, vi, ix, xx, etc.) They accept as an axiom that the Old and New Testaments in part, and as a whole, have been given and sealed by God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. All the doctrines of the Church of Christ, from the greatest to the least, are based on this. All the proofs of the doctrines are based also on this. No text was questioned; no book was doubted; all Scripture was received by the great builders of our theological systems with that unassailable belief in the inspiration of its texts, which was the position of Christ and His apostles.
But now the Higher Critics think they have changed all that.
They claim that the science of criticism has dispossessed the science of systematic theology. Canon Henson tells us that the day has gone by for proof-texts and harmonies. It is not enough now for a theologian to turn to a book in the Bible, and bring out a text in order to establish a doctrine. It might be in the book, or in a portion of the Book that the German critics have proved to be a forgery, or an anachronism. It might be in Deuteronomy, or in Jonah, or in Daniel, and in that case, of course, it would be out of the question to accept it. The Christian system, therefore, will have to be re-adjusted if not revolutionized, every text and chapter and book will have to be inspected and analyzed in the light of its date, and origin, and circumstances, and authorship, and so on, and only after it has passed the examining board of the modern Franco-Dutch-German criticism will it be allowed to stand as a proof-text for the establishment of any Christian doctrine.
But the most serious consequences of this theory of the structure and inspiration of the Old Testament is that it overturns the juridic authority of our Lord Jesus Christ.
What of Christ's Authority?
The attitude of Christ to the Old Testament Scriptures must determine ours. He is God. He is truth. His is the final voice. He is the Supreme Judge. There is no appeal from that court. Christ Jesus the Lord believed and affirmed the historic veracity of the whole of the Old Testament writings implicitly (Luke 24:44). And the Canon, or collection of Books of the Old Testament, was precisely the same in Christ's time as it is today. And further. Christ Jesus our Lord believed and emphatically affirmed the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch (Matt. 5:17-18; Mark 12:26-36; Luke 16:31; John 5:46-47). That is true, the critics say. But, then, neither Christ nor His Apostles were critical scholars! Perhaps not in the twentieth century sense of the term. But, as a German scholar said, if they were not critici doctores, they were doctores veritatis who did not come into the world to fortify popular errors by their authority. But then they say, Christ's knowledge as a man was limited. He grew in knowledge (Luke 2:52). Surely that implies His ignorance. And if His ignorance, why not His ignorance with regard to the science of historical criticism? (Gore, Lux Mundi, page 360; Briggs, H.C. of Hexateuch, page 28.) Or even if He did know more than His age, He probably spoke as He did in accommodation with the ideas of His contemporaries! (Briggs, page 29.)
In fact, what they mean is practically that Jesus did know perfectly well that Moses did not write the Pentateuch, but allowed His disciples to believe that Moses did, and taught His disciples that Moses did, simply because He did not want to upset their simple faith in the whole of the Old Testament as the actual and authoritative and Divinely revealed Word of God. (See Driver, page 12.) Or else, that Jesus imagined, like any other Jew of His day, that Moses wrote the books that bear his name, and believed, with the childlike Jewish belief of His day, the literal inspiration, Divine authority and historic veracity of the Old Testament, and yet was completely mistaken, ignorant of the simplest facts, and wholly in error. In other words, He could not tell a forgery from an original, or a pious fiction from a genuine document. (The analogy of Jesus speaking of the sun rising as an instance of the theory of accommodation is a very different thing.)
This, then, is their position: Christ knew the views He taught were false, and yet taught them as truth. Or else, Christ didn't know they were false and believed them to be true when they were not true. In either case the Blessed One is dethroned as True God and True Man. If He did not know the books to be spurious when they were spurious and the fables and myths to be mythical and fabulous; if He accepted legendary tales as trustworthy facts, then He was not and is not omniscient. He was not only intellectually fallible, He was morally fallible; for He was not true enough "to miss the ring of truth" in Deuteronomy and Daniel.
And further. If Jesus did know certain of the books to be lacking in genuineness, if not spurious and pseudonymous; if He did know the stories of the Fall and Lot and Abraham and Jonah and Daniel to be allegorical and imaginary, if not unverifiable and mythical, then He was neither trustworthy nor good. "If it were not so, I would have told you." We feel, those of us who love and trust Him, that if these stories were not true, if these books were a masss of historical unveracities, if Abraham was an eponymous hero, if Joseph was an astral myth, that He would have told us so. It is a matter that concerned His honor as a Teacher as well as His knowledge as our God. As Canon Liddon has conclusively pointed out, if our Lord was unreliable in these historic and documentary matters of inferior value, how can He be followed as the teacher of doctrinal truth and the revealer of God? (John 3:12.) (Liddon, Divinity of Our Lord, pages 475-480.)
After the Kenosis
Men say in this connection that part of the humiliation of Christ was His being touched with the infirmities of our human ignorance and fallibilities. They dwell upon the so-called doctrine of the Kenosis, or the emptying, as explaining satisfactorily His limitations. But Christ spoke of the Old Testament Scriptures after His resurrection. He affirmed after His glorious resurrection that "all things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms concerning Me" (Luke 24:44). This was not a statement made during the time of the Kenosis, when Christ was a mere boy, or a youth, or a mere Jew after the flesh (1 Cor. 13:11). It is the statement of Him Who has been declared the Son of God with power. It is the Voice that is final and overwhelming. The limitations of the Kenosis are all abandoned now, and yet the Risen Lord not only does not give a shadow of a hint any statement in the Old Testament is inaccurate or that any portion thereof needed revision or correction, not only most solemnly declared that those books which we receive as the product of Moses were indeed the books of Moses, but authorized with His Divine imprimatur the whole of the Old Testament Scriptures from beginning to end.
There are, however, two or three questions that must be raised, as they will have to be faced by every student of present day problems. The first is this: Is not refusal of higher critical conclusions mere opposition to light and progress and the position of ignorant alarmists and obscurantists?
It is very necessary to have our minds made perfectly clear on this point, and to remove not a little dust of misunderstanding.
The desire to receive all the light that the most fearless search for truth by the highest scholarship can yield is the desire of every true believer in the Bible. No really healthy Christian mind can advocate obscurantism. The obscurant who opposes the investigation of scholarship, and would throttle the investigators, has not the spirit of Christ. In heart and attitude he is a Mediaevalist. To use Bushnell's famous apologue, he would try to stop the dawning of the day by wringing the neck of the crowing cock. No one wants to put the Bible in a glass case. But it is the duty of every Christian who belongs to the noble army of truth-lovers to test all things and to hold fast that which is good. He also has rights even though he is, technically speaking, unlearned, and to accept any view that contradicts his spiritual judgment simply because it is that of a so-called scholar, is to abdicate his franchise as a Christian and his birthright as a man. (See that excellent little work by Professor Kennedy, "Old Testament Criticism and the Rights of the Unlearned," F.H. Revell.) And in his right of private judgment he is aware that while the privilege of investigation in conceded to all, the conclusions of an avowedly prejudiced scholarship must be subjected to a peculiarly searching analysis. The most ordinary Bible reader is learned enough to know that the investigation of the Book that claims to be supernatural by those who are avowed enemies of all that is supernatural, and the study of subjects that can be understood only by men of humble and contrite heart by men who are admittedly irreverent in spirit, must certainly be received with caution. (See Parker's striking work, "None Like It," F.H. Revell, and his last address.)
The Scholarship Argument
The second question is also serious: Are we not bound to receive these views when they are advanced, not by rationalist, but by Christians, and not by ordinary Christians, but by men of superior and unchallengeable scholarship?
There is a widespread idea among younger men that the so-called Higher Critics must be followed because their scholarship settles the questions. This is great mistake. No expert scholarship can settle questions that require a humble heart, a believing mind and a reverent spirit, as well as a knowledge of Hebrew and philology; and no scholarship can be relied upon as expert which is manifestly characterized by a biased judgment, a curious lack of knowledge of human nature, and a still more curious deference to the views of men with a prejudice against the supernatural. No one can read such a suggestive and sometimes even such an inspiring writer as George Adam Smith without feeling of sorrow that he has allowed this German bias of mind to lead him into such an assumption of infallibility in many of his positions and statements. It is the same with Driver. With a kind of sic volo sic jubeo airy ease he introduces assertions and propositions that would really require chapter after chapter, if not even volume after volume, to substantiate. On page after page his "must be," and "could not possibly be," and "could certainly not," extort from the average reader the natural exclamation: "But why?" "Why not?" "Wherefore?" "On what grounds?" "For what reason?" "Where are the proofs?" But of proofs or reason there is not a trace. The reader must be content with the writer's assertions. It reminds one, in fact, of the "we may well suppose," and "perhaps" of the Darwinian who offers as the sole proof of the origination of a different species his random supposition! ("Modern Ideas of Evolution," Dawson, pages 53-55.)
A Great Mistake
There is a widespread idea also among the younger students that because Graf and Wellhausen and Driver and Cheyne are experts in Hebrew that, therefore, their deductions as experts in language must be received. This, too, is a mistake. There is no such difference in the Hebrew of the so-called original sources of the Hexateuch as some suppose. The argument from language, says Professor Bissell ("Introduction to Genesis in Colors," page vii), requires extreme care for obvious reasons. There is no visible cleavage line among the supposed sources. Any man of ordinary intelligence can see at once the vast difference between the English of Tennyson and Shakespeare, and Chaucer and Sir John de Mandeville. But no scholar in the world ever has or ever will be able to tell the dates of each and every book in the Bible by the style of the Hebrew. (See Sayce, "Early History of the Hebrews," page 109.) The unchanging Orient knows nothing of the swift lingual variations of the Occident. Pusey, with his masterly scholarship, has shown how even the Book of Daniel, from the standpoint of philology, cannot possibly be a product of the time of the Maccabees. ("On Daniel," pages 23-59.) The late Professor of Hebrew in the University of Toronto, Professor Hirschfelder, in his very learned work on Genesis, says: "We would search in vain for any peculiarity either in the language or the sense that would indicate a two-fold authorship." As far as the language of the original goes, "the most fastidious critic could not possibly detect the slightest peculiarity that would indicate it to be derived from two sources" (page 72). Dr. Emil Reich also, in his "Bankruptcy of the Higher Criticism," in the Contemporary Review, April, 1905, says the same thing.
Not all on One Side
A third objection remains, a most serious one. It is that all the scholarship is on one side. The old-fashioned conservative views are no longer maintained by men with pretension to scholarship. The only people who oppose the Higher Critical views are the ignorant, the prejudiced, and the illiterate. (Briggs' "Bible, Church and Reason," pages 240-247.)
This, too, is a matter that needs a little clearing up. In the first place it is not fair to assert that the upholders of what are called the old-fashioned or traditional views of the Bible are opposed to the pursuit of scientific Biblical investigation. It is equally unfair to imagine that their opposition to the views of the Continental school is based upon ignorance and prejudice.
What the Conservative school oppose is not Biblical criticism, but Biblical criticism by rationalists. They do not oppose the conclusions of Wellhausen and Kuenen because they are experts and scholars; they oppose them because the Biblical criticism of rationalists and unbelievers can be neither expert nor scientific. A criticism that is characterized by the most arbitrary conclusions from the most spurious assumptions has no right to the word scientific. And further. Their adhesion to the traditional views is not only conscientious but intelligent. They believe that the old-fashioned views are as scholarly as they are Scriptural. It is the fashion in some quarter to cite the imposing list of scholars on the side of the German school, and to sneeringly assert that there is not a scholar to stand up for the old views of the Bible.
This is not the case. Hengstenberg of Basle and Berlin, was as profound a scholar as Eichhorn, Vater or De Wette; and Keil or Kurtz, and Zahn and Rupprecht were competent to compete with Reuss and Kuenen. Wilhelm Moller, who confesses that he was once "immovably convinced of the irrefutable correctness of the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis," has revised his former radical conclusions on the ground of reason and deeper research as a Higher Critic; and Professor Winckler, who has of late overturned the assured and settled results of the Higher Critics from the foundation, is, according to Orr, the leading Orientalist in Germany, and a man of enormous learning.
Sayce, the Professor of Assyriology at Oxford, has a right to rank as an expert and scholar with Cheyne, the Oriel Professor of Scripture Interpretation. Margoliouth, the Laudian Professor of Arabic at Oxford, as far as learning is concerned, is in the same rank with Driver, the Regius Professor of Hebrew, and the conclusion of this great scholar with regard to one of the widely vaunted theories of the radical school, is almost amusing in its terseness.
"Is there then nothing in the splitting theories," he says in summarizing a long line of defense of the unity of the book of Isaiah; "is there then nothing in the splitting theories? To my mind, nothing at all!" ("Lines of Defense," page 136.)
Green and Bissell are as able, if not abler, scholars than Robertson Smith and Professor Briggs, and both of these men, as a result of the widest and deepest research, have come to the conclusion that the theories of the Germans are unscientific, unhistorical, and unscholarly. The last words of Professor Green in his very able work on the "Higher Criticism of the Pentateuch" are most suggestive. "Would it not be wiser for them to revise their own ill-judged alliance with the enemies of evangelical truth, and inquire whether Christ's view of the Old Testament may not, after all, be the true view?"
Yes. That, after all, is the great and final question. We trust we are not ignorant. We feel sure we are not malignant. We desire to treat no man unfairly, or set down aught in malice.
But we desire to stand with Christ and His Church. If we have any prejudice, we would rather be prejudiced against rationalism. If we have any bias, it must be against a teaching which unsteadies heart and unsettles faith. Even at the expense of being thought behind the times, we prefer to stand with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in receiving the Scriptures as the Word of God, without objection and without a doubt. A little learning, and a little listening to rationalistic theorizers and sympathizers may incline us to uncertainty; but deeper study and deeper research will incline us as it inclined Hengstenberg and Moller, to the profoundest conviction of the authority and authenticity of the Holy Scriptures, and to cry, "Thy word is very pure; therefore Thy servant loveth it."