The New Testament view of the Old Testament
The Christian Church has always assigned to the Bible a unique place in theology and life. What is true of the Bible as a whole is equally true of that part of the Bible which is known as the Old Testament. Indeed, until the middle of the second century of the Christian era, the only Scriptures accepted as authoritative were those of the Old Testament. Even then, only gradually and under the pressure of real need, different groups of Christian writings were added and received an authority equal to that of the older Scriptures. And though in the course of the centuries there have been some who denied to the Old Testament a rightful place in Christian thought and life, the Church as a whole has always upheld the judgment of the early Christians in making the Old Testament a part of the canon of Christian sacred writings.

It is worthy of note that the Old Testament played an important part in the religious life of Jesus. No one can study the records of his life without seeing that he gathered much of his {10} spiritual nourishment from its pages. Even in the moments of severest temptation, greatest distress, and bitterest agony the words of these ancient writings were on his lips, and their consoling and inspiring messages in his heart and mind. This attitude of Jesus toward the ancient Hebrew Scriptures in itself explains the high estimate placed upon them by his followers. For, in the words of G. A. Smith, "That which was used by the Redeemer himself for the sustenance of his own soul can never pass out of the use of his redeemed. That from which he proved the divinity of his mission and the age-long preparation for his coming must always have a principal place in his Church's argument for him."[1]

The attitude of Jesus is reflected in his disciples and those who have given to us the New Testament books. Nearly three hundred quotations from the Old Testament are scattered throughout the Gospels and Epistles, and in a number of passages is the value of Old Testament study specifically emphasized. Perhaps nowhere is this done more clearly than in 2 Tim.3.15-17, in words written primarily of the Old Testament: "The sacred writings which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for {11} correction, for instruction which is in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work." Evidently the writer of these words considers the sacred writings of the Hebrews able to inspire a personal saving faith in Jesus, the Christ; to furnish a knowledge of the things of God; and to prepare for efficient service. And these are the elements which enter into the life advocated and illustrated by the Founder of Christianity.

An attempt will be made in this chapter to determine the New Testament view of the Old Testament for the purpose of discovering what is the proper Christian view of that part of the Bible. For, if the teaching, spirit, and example of Jesus have a vital relation to Christian belief, and if his immediate followers have preserved an essentially accurate portrayal of him, then the modern Christian view of the Old Testament should be a reflection of the view of Jesus and of those who, as a result of their intimate fellowship with him, were in a position to give a correct interpretation of him and his teaching.

We may inquire, in the first place, what is the New Testament view of the purpose of the Old Testament Scriptures? The answer to this inquiry is furnished by the passage in the Second Epistle to Timothy quoted above. Neither this nor any other passage in the whole Bible warrants {12} the belief that the Old Testament ever was meant to teach physical science, or history, or philosophy, or psychology. Everywhere it is stated or clearly implied that the purpose of all biblical teaching is to make man morally and spiritually perfect, and to furnish him "unto every good work." Therefore we may expect that where the Old Testament writers touch upon questions of science and history they develop them only in so far as they serve this higher religious and ethical purpose. This being the biblical view of the purpose of the Scriptures, any theory of the Old Testament which makes no distinction between scientific and historical statements on the one hand, and religious and ethical statements on the other, is inadequate and erroneous, because it is not in accord with the New Testament teaching on that point.

The purpose of the Bible is intimately connected with its nature and character. The New Testament view of the nature and character of the Old Testament is suggested in Heb.1.1, 2: "God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners, hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in a Son." Four great truths concerning the Old Testament dispensation are definitely indicated in these words, with a fifth one implied: (1) God spoke; (2) God spoke in the prophets, {13} that is, in or through human agents; (3) God spoke in divers portions; (4) God spoke in divers manners; (5) the words imply that the Old Testament dispensation was incomplete; it had to be supplemented and perfected by a revelation in and through a Son. The truths expressed here constitute the essential elements which enter into the New Testament view of the Old Testament.

The two expressions, "in divers portions" and "in divers manners," concern largely the external form of divine revelation. The former means that the revelations recorded in the Old Testament were not given at one time, through one channel or by one man, but at many times, through many channels, by many men, scattered over a period of many centuries, in places hundreds of miles apart. One result of this is seen in the fact that the Old Testament contains many books written by different authors in successive periods of Hebrew history.

The latter expression has to do with the different kinds of literature in the Old Testament, but it goes deeper than mere literary form. It means that in giving revelations of himself during the Old Testament period God used various methods and means, the different kinds of literature being simply the outgrowth of the various modes of revelation.

It is a universal Christian belief that God {14} reveals himself to-day in divers manners and modes. Every Christian believes, for example, that God reveals himself in the events of history, be it the history of individuals or of nations. Again, to many devout persons, God speaks very distinctly through the outward acts and ceremonies of worship. To thousands of earnest and sincere Christians connected with churches using an elaborate ritual, this ritual is no mere form; it is a means of blessing and grace through which God reveals himself to their souls. Moreover, God selects certain persons, especially well qualified to hear his voice; these he commissions as ambassadors to declare him and his will to the people. The belief in this method of revelation is the philosophical basis for the offices of the Christian preacher and the Christian religious teacher. Once more, in his attempt to reach the human heart God may dispense with all external means; he may and does reveal himself by working directly upon and in the mind and spirit of the individual. These are some of the "manners" in which God reveals himself to his children to-day, and these are some of the means and manners in which God made himself known during the Old Testament dispensation. Then, as he does now, he revealed himself in nature, in the events of history, in the ritual, and by direct impressions; and at times he selected certain individuals to whom he might {15} make himself known in all these various ways and who could transmit the various revelations to others. The Old Testament contains records and interpretations of these manifold revelations. It is self-evident that when attempts were made to record these various manifestations of God different kinds of literature must be used in order to express most vividly the truth or truths gathered from the divine revelations. The several kinds of literature, therefore, are the natural outgrowth of the manifold modes of divine revelation. In the Old Testament five kinds of literature may be distinguished: the prophetic, the wisdom, the devotional, the legal or priestly, and the historical. In their production four classes of religious workers who observed, interpreted, and mediated the divine revelations, were active: the prophets, the wise men, the priests (compare Jer.18.18), and the psalmists.

The prophetic literature owes its origin to prophetic activity. The prophets towered above their contemporaries in purity of character, strength of intellect, sincerity of purpose, intimacy of communion with God, and illumination by the divine Spirit. As a result of these qualifications they were able to understand truth hidden from the eyes and minds of those who did not live in the same intimate fellowship with Jehovah. Their high conceptions of the character of God enabled {16} them to appreciate the divine ideals of righteousness, and they sought with flaming enthusiasm to impress the truths burning in their hearts upon their less enlightened contemporaries. In carrying out this purpose they became statesmen, social reformers, and religious and ethical teachers. No records have been preserved of the utterances of the earliest prophets. But when, with the general advance in culture, reading and writing became more common, the prophets, anxious to reach a wider circle, and to preserve their messages for more willing ears, put their utterances into writing, and to this new departure we owe the sublime specimens of prophetic literature in the Old Testament.

In his direct appeal to heart and conscience the ancient prophet resembles the modern preacher. The wise man, like the prophet, sought to make the divine will known to others, but in his method he resembles, rather, the modern religious teacher. His ultimate aim was to influence conduct and life, but instead of appealing directly to the conscience he addressed himself primarily to the mind through counsel and argument, hoping that his appeal to the common sense of the listener would make an impression, the effects of which might be seen in transformed conduct. The prophet would have said to the lazy man, "Thus saith Jehovah, Go to work, thou indolent man." {17} Prov.24.30-34 may serve as an illustration of the method of the wise man:

I went by the field of the sluggard,
And by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns,
The face thereof was covered with nettles,
And the stone wall thereof was broken down
Then I beheld, and considered well;
I saw, and received instruction:
Yet a little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to sleep;
So shall thy poverty come as a robber,
And thy want as an armed man.

Nothing escaped the observation of these men, and from beginning to end they emphasized the important truth that religion and the daily life are inseparable. From giving simple practical precepts, the wise men rose to speculation, and the books of Job and Ecclesiastes bear witness that they busied themselves with no mean problems.

Of profound significance is also the devotional literature of the Old Testament. In a real sense the entire Old Testament is a book of devotion. It is the outgrowth of a spirit of intense devotion to Jehovah, and it has helped in all ages to nurture the devotional spirit of its readers. Here, however, the term "devotional" is used in the narrower sense of those poetic compositions which are primarily the expressions of the religious experience or emotions of the authors, generated {18} and fostered by their intimate fellowship with Jehovah. The chief representative of this literature is the book of Psalms, which is aptly described by Johannes Arnd in these words: "What the heart is in man, that is the Psalter in the Bible." The Psalms contain in the form of sacred lyrics the outpourings of devout souls -- prophets, priests, kings, wise men, and peasants -- who came into the very presence of God, held communion with him, and were privileged to hear the sweet sound of his voice. No other literary compositions lift us into such atmosphere of religious thought and emotion. Because these lyrics reflect personal experiences they may still be used to express emotions of joy, sorrow, hope, fear, anticipation, etc., even by persons who live on a higher spiritual plane than did the original authors.

The legal literature differs from the other kinds in that it does not form separate books, but is embodied in other writings, principally in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. All the representatives of Jehovah -- prophets, priests, wise men, and even psalmists -- were thought competent to make known the law of Jehovah, but the Old Testament makes it clear that at a comparatively early period the giving of law came to be looked upon as the special duty of the priests. These priests constituted a {19} very important class of religious workers among the ancient Hebrews. During the greater part of the national life their chief functions were the care of the sanctuary and the performance of ceremonial rites. But in addition to these duties they continued to administer the law of Jehovah, consisting not only of ceremonial regulations but also of moral and judicial precepts and directions. For centuries these laws may have been transmitted by word of mouth, or were only partially committed to writing, but when circumstances made it desirable to codify them and put them in writing the priests would be called upon to take this advance step. Thus, while it is quite probable that other representatives of Jehovah helped to formulate laws, the legal literature embodied in the Old Testament reached its final form under priestly influence.

The historical literature furnishes an interpretation of the movements of God in the events of history. It owes its origin in part to prophetic, in part to priestly, activity. The prophet was an ambassador of Jehovah appointed to make known the divine will concerning the past, the present, and the future. Of the present he spoke as a preacher; when his message concerned the future it took the form of prediction; but the case might arise that the people failed to understand the significance of events in their own history, and {20} thus failed to appreciate the lessons which the events were intended to teach. If these lessons were not to be lost, some one must serve as an interpreter, and who would be better qualified to furnish the right interpretation than the prophet? This demand made of him, in a sense, an historian, not for the purpose of merely recording events but of interpreting them at the same time, and these prophetic interpretations are embodied in the historical literature originating with the prophets.

But not all Old Testament history comes from the prophets. As already indicated, the legal and ceremonial literature is due to priestly activity. Now, in connection with the recording of the laws, customs, institutions, and ceremonial requirements, the origin of these laws and customs became a matter of interest and importance. This interest, and the demand for information arising from it, led the priests also to become historians. And to these priestly writers we are indebted for not a small part of sacred history.

The third truth taught by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews is that God spoke unto the fathers in or by the prophets, which means, that he used human agents to mediate his revelations. The Old Testament may be more than a human production; nevertheless, it will be {21} impossible to appreciate it adequately unless it is borne in mind that it contains a human element. In the first place may be noted the differences in style between various writers. These are frequently the outgrowth of differences in temperament and early training. Even the English reader can notice such differences between Amos and Hosea, or between Isaiah and Jeremiah. Evidently, whatever divine cooperation the biblical writers enjoyed, they retained enough of their human faculties and powers to make use of their own peculiar styles.

Again, the hand of man may be seen in the manner of literary composition. Most Bible students are familiar with the opening words of the Gospel of Luke: "Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning those matters which have been fulfilled among us, even as they delivered them unto us, who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having traced the course of all things accurately from the first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus; that thou mightest know the certainty concerning the things wherein thou wast instructed." Evidently, the evangelist carefully sifted the material at hand before he wrote the Gospel, just as a modern writer would do. In the Old Testament even clearer evidence is found {22} that the authors of the several books were guided in the process of composition by the same principles as writers of extra-biblical productions. The most suggestive illustrations of this fact are found in the books of Chronicles, in which reference is made again and again to the sources from which the compiler gathered his material. In 1 Chron.29.29, for example, mention is made of the "words of Samuel the seer, ... the words of Nathan the prophet, and ... the words of Gad the seer"; 2 Chron.9.29 refers to "words of Nathan the prophet, ... the prophecy of Ahijah, ... the visions of Iddo the seer." These are only a few of the references scattered throughout Chronicles, but they are sufficient to show that in their composition methods employed by secular writers were used. The same characteristic appears in the book of Proverbs. According to its own testimony, it contains several separate collections. After the general title, "Proverbs of Solomon," in 1.1, the following additional headings are found: 10.1, "Proverbs of Solomon"; 22.17, "The words of the wise"; 24.23, "These also are the sayings of the wise"; 25.1, "These also are the proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah, king of Judah, copied out"; 30.1, "The words of Agur"; 31.1, "The words of King Lemuel"; 31.10-31 is an anonymous alphabetic acrostic. Similar more or less clearly marked phenomena may {23} be noted in other Old Testament books, all of them bearing witness to the presence of a human element in these writings.

More significant are the historical inaccuracies found here and there in the books. They may not be serious; the substantial accuracy of the writings may be established, but even the slightest inaccuracy constitutes a blemish which one would not expect in a work coming directly from an all-wise God. For example, 2 Kings 18.10 states that Samaria was taken in the sixth year of Hezekiah, king of Judah; verse 13 contains the statement that in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah, Sennacherib, king of Assyria, came against Jerusalem. Now, the date of the capture of Samaria is definitely fixed by the Assyrian inscriptions. The city fell either in the closing days of B.C.722, or the beginning of B.C.721. Assuming that it was in 722, the fourteenth year of Hezekiah would be B.C.714. But Sennacherib did not become king of Assyria until B.C.705, while his attack upon Judah and Jerusalem was not undertaken until B.C.701, hence there would seem to be an inaccuracy somewhere. Certainly, since the primary purpose of the writings is not historical, but religious, these inaccuracies do not affect the real value of the book. Nevertheless, their presence shows that the writings cannot be looked upon as coming in all their parts directly from {24} God. At some point man must have stepped in and left marks of his limitations.

More serious perhaps may appear the incompleteness and imperfection of the religious and ethical conceptions, especially in the older portions. Read, for example, the twenty-fourth chapter of Second Samuel. Jehovah is there represented as causing David to number the people, and when he carried out the command Jehovah was angry and sent a pestilence which destroyed, not David, but seventy thousand innocent men. Can any Christian believe that the God of love revealed by Jesus ever acted in such arbitrary manner? No! The trouble lies with the author of the passage, who, on account of his relatively low conception of the character of Jehovah, gave an erroneous interpretation of the events recorded. A later writer, who had a truer conception of the God of Israel, saw that a mistake had been made; therefore he introduced Satan as the one who caused the numbering (1 Chron.21.1). Or take the twenty-second chapter of First Kings, especially verses 19 to 23. Four hundred prophets of Jehovah urge Ahab to go up against Ramoth-gilead. On the advice of the king of Judah, Micaiah is called, who announces, after some hesitation, that the expedition will end disastrously. He then explains how it happened that the other prophets told a falsehood: {25} "Therefore hear thou the word of Jehovah: I saw Jehovah sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left. And Jehovah said, Who shall entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead? And one said on this manner; and another said on that manner. And there came forth a spirit, and stood before Jehovah, and said, I will entice him. And Jehovah said unto him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt entice him, and shalt prevail also; go forth, and do so. Now therefore, behold, Jehovah hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets; and Jehovah hath spoken evil concerning thee." Can any Christian believe that our God who is infinitely pure and holy ever did persuade anyone to tell a lie? God never changes; he has always been pure and holy; but man was not able in the beginning to comprehend him in his fullness. The human conceptions of the divine were imperfect and incomplete, and these imperfect conceptions are embodied in some of the Old Testament writings. True, as Bowne suggests, "God might conceivably have made man over all at once by fiat, but in that case it would have been a magical rather than a moral revelation."[2]

Throughout the entire book these and other {26} indications of the presence of a human element may be seen, which the reader cannot afford to overlook if he would estimate rightly the Old Testament Scriptures. But while they are there, they must not blind the eyes of the student to the fourth great truth expressed by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, namely, that God spoke through these men; in other words, that there is also a divine element in the Old Testament. In the words of S. I. Curtis: "While it seems to me that we find abundant evidences of development in the Old Testament from very simple concrete representations of God to those which are profoundly spiritual, I am not able to account for this development on naturalistic principles. In it I see God at all times and everywhere coworking with human instruments until the fullness of time should come"[3]. The presence of this divine element was recognized by Jesus and by all the New Testament writers, and surely it is a significant fact that in the first outburst of Christian enthusiasm, and under the living impression of the unique personality of the Master, no doubt arose concerning the inspiration and permanent value of the Old Testament. With the Christian the testimony of Jesus and his disciples carries great weight. But without appealing to his authority every unbiased reader may convince himself of the nature and character {27} of the Book; it is not necessary to depend upon the testimony of men who lived centuries ago, though they were inspired men. The Book is an open book, ready for examination, and inviting the closest scrutiny on the part of every reader.

Former generations found the principal arguments in favor of the belief in a divine element in the Old Testament in the presence of miracles in its records and in the fulfillment of prophecy. The present generation cannot depend upon these arguments exclusively. The whole question of miracles in the Old Testament has assumed a different aspect within recent years. In the first place, it is seen that in some places where formerly a miracle was thought to have been wrought natural causes may have played a prominent part, as, for example, in the crossing of the Red Sea and the Jordan. In other cases language which used to be interpreted literally is now seen to be poetic and imaginative. In still other cases the absolute historical accuracy of certain narratives has come to be questioned. All this has resulted in a weakening of the evidence relied upon by former generations. Approaching the subject of miracles from another side, a better acquaintance with the uniformity of nature and the laws of nature has led some to question even the possibility of miracles, while the greater emphasis upon the immanence of God has resulted {28} in altered conceptions of the natural and supernatural, if not in an almost complete obliteration of any distinction between the two. Since miracles are involved in so much uncertainty, they do not at present constitute a very strong argument to prove the presence of a divine element in the Old Testament to one who is at all skeptically inclined; indeed, there are many sincere Christians who find miracles useless as an aid to faith.

In a similar manner, one cannot appeal with the same assurance as formerly to the fulfillment of prophecy. It is undoubtedly true that many prophetic utterances were fulfilled; it is equally true that some were not fulfilled. If, however, the apologist depends upon the fulfillment of prophecy as a proof, the nonfulfillment of even a single one weakens his position. Moreover, it is recognized at present that prophecy in the sense of prediction occupies a relatively insignificant place in the Old Testament. Besides, scientific methods of study have shown that some passages interpreted formerly as predictions can no longer be so interpreted, while in the case of others the interpretation is more or less doubtful. Here, again, the difficulties connected with the use of the argument have become so perplexing that many consider it wise not to use it at all. If used with caution, prophecy, especially Messianic {29} prophecy, possesses great evidential value; but the argument from the fulfillment of prophecy as used formerly has lost much of its worth as a proof of inspiration. The arguments relied upon at the present time are simpler than those of the past, and are of such a nature that any fair-minded student can test them.

In the first place, attention may be called to the essential unity of the book. There are in the Old World great and magnificent cathedrals, some of which have been centuries in building, yet in all of them may be found unity and harmony. How is this to be explained? Although generation after generation of workmen have labored on the enterprise, back of all the efforts was a single plan, evolved in the mind of one man, which mind controlled all the succeeding generations of workmen. The result is unity and harmony. The Bible has been likened to a magnificent cathedral. The phenomenon to which reference has been made in connection with ancient cathedrals may be seen in the Bible as a whole, as also in the Old Testament considered separately. The latter contains thirty-nine books, by how many authors no one knows, scattered over a period of more than a thousand years, written, at least some of them, independently of one another, in places hundreds of miles apart. And yet there is one thought running through them all -- the {30} gradual unfolding of God's plan of redemption for the human race. There must be an explanation of this unity. Is it not natural to find it in the fact that one and the same divine spirit overshadowed the many men who made contributions to the Book?

The proof of the presence of a divine element in the Old Testament which is derived from the essential unity of the book, is confirmed by the response of the soul to its message, and the effect which it produces in the lives of those who yield themselves to its teachings. Jesus and his disciples observed that its message rightly applied would awaken a response in the human heart; sometimes, indeed, it produced a sense of indignation, because it carried with it a sentence of condemnation; at other times it led to loving obedience. And they themselves experienced the effects of its teaching upon life and character: it was with truths proclaimed in the Old Testament that Jesus overcame temptation, and the quotations used in the darkest hours of his earthly life are an indication that at all times he found the most refreshing soul food in its pages. The same is true of the early disciples of Jesus. Undoubtedly, the statement in 2 Tim.3.15-17 is the expression of a living experience; and ever since these words were written millions of Christians have experienced the uplifting influence of many portions of the {31} Old Testament Scriptures. They may not enjoin the finer graces of Christianity, but they insist most strongly and persistently upon the fundamental virtues which go to make up a sturdy, noble, righteous, uncompromising character. A message which produces such divine results bears witness to itself that it embodies truth which in some sense proceeded from God. This is aptly stated by Coleridge in these words: "Need I say that I have met everywhere more or less copious sources of truth and power and purifying impulses, that I have found words for my inmost thoughts, songs for my joy, utterances for my hidden griefs, and pleadings for my shame and feebleness? In short, whatever finds me, bears witness for itself that it has proceeded from a Holy Spirit, even from the same Spirit which remaining in itself, yet regenerateth all other powers, and in all ages entering into holy souls, maketh them friends of God and prophets."[4]

As long as the Old Testament is able to awaken this response and produce these effects men will believe that it contains a divine element; and it will accomplish these things whenever men are willing to study it intelligently and devoutly. What the Old Testament calls for is not a defense but earnest and devout study. The words of Richard Rothe concerning the Bible as a whole are applicable also to the Old Testament Scriptures: {32} "Let the Bible go forth into Christendom as it is in itself, as a book like other books, without allowing any dogmatic theory to assign it to a reserved position in the ranks of books, let it accomplish of itself entirely through its own character and through that which each man can find in it for himself, and it will accomplish great things."[5] The words of Professor Westphal are also worthy to be remembered: "The only thing for our more enlightened religion to bear in mind is that the proof of revelation is not necessarily to be found in the formula which claims to herald it, but, above all, in the specific value of the thing revealed, in the divine character of the inspired Word which forces our conscience to recognize in it the expression of God's will itself."[6]

The value and significance of the above argument cannot be overestimated. But during the past century other proofs have become available as a result of the careful, painstaking study of the Bible by scholars in many lands and from various points of view. These investigations have shown the Old Testament to be a peculiarly unique book when compared with other sacred literatures of antiquity. This uniqueness consists principally in the pure and lofty atmosphere which permeates the whole from beginning to end. One may read its stories of prehistoric times, its records {33} of history, its law, its poetry, its prophecy, and everywhere he will find a religious tone and spirit which, if present at all, is much less marked in the similar literatures of other nations. The modern scientific student has approached the Old Testament chiefly from four directions, and in the pursuit of his work four distinct tests have been applied to the Old Testament: the tests of science, of criticism, of archaeology, and of comparative religion. These four tests and their bearing upon the New Testament, or Christian, view of the Old Testament are considered in the succeeding pages.

Before closing this chapter one important question remains to be considered. It may be formulated in this wise: If there are limitations and imperfections in the Old Testament, or anywhere else in the Bible, how may they be distinguished from the truth? In the case of historical or scientific errors the method of procedure may appear clear to those who hold the New Testament view as to the purpose of the Old Testament writers; but the situation seems more troublesome in the case of religious and ethical imperfections, because religion and ethics are the rightful sphere of the biblical writings. If the Bible is not the final authority, where can be found a criterion by which the biblical, or Old Testament, statements may be judged? Startling as the suggestion {34} to judge scriptures may seem in theory, a moment's thought will show that it is being done every day by practically every Christian who seeks spiritual nourishment in the Sacred Book. Who has not passed through experiences such as are suggested in these words of Marcus Dods? -- "Who is at the reader's elbow as he peruses Exodus and Leviticus to tell him what is of permanent authority and what is for the Mosaic economy only? Who whispers as we read Genesis and Kings, 'This is exemplary; this is not'? Who sifts for us the speeches of Job, and enables us to treasure up as divine truth what he utters in one verse, while we reject the next as Satanic ravings? Who gives the preacher authority and accuracy of aim to pounce on a sound text in Ecclesiastes, while wisdom and folly toss and roll over one another in confusingly rapid and inextricable contortions? What enables the humblest Christian to come safely through the cursing Psalms and go straight to forgive his enemy? What tells us that we may eat things strangled, though the whole college of apostles deliberately and expressly prohibited such eating? Who assures us that we need not anoint the sick with oil, although in the New Testament we are explicitly commanded to do so? In a word, how is it that the simplest reader can be trusted with the Bible and can be left to find his own {35} spiritual nourishment in it, rejecting almost as much as he receives?"[7] These questions call attention to a common Christian practice. But, if the practice can be justified as Christian, the principle underlying the practice may be Christian also; and so it is, for it is recognized as legitimate in the New Testament.

A single sentence from a New Testament book suggests the answer to the above questions: "He that is spiritual judgeth all things."[8] The Scriptures are included among the "all things." But notice, Paul does not say that anyone may set himself up as judge, but "he that is spiritual"; that is, the man who is controlled by the spirit of the Christ. If Jesus has given to the world the highest revelation of God and truth, then the expressions of all other revelations must be measured by his revelation, either as an external standard, or as an inner criterion by him who, in his own experience, has appropriated the character, spirit, and life of Jesus. He who has thus appropriated the Christ in his fullness will be able to judge all things. But until he has reached that standard man's judgment will remain imperfect and more or less unreliable, and though for his own guidance he is still dependent upon it, he must guard against the error of setting up his own imperfect Christian consciousness as the ultimate criterion for all.


Up to the present time no individual has reached the stage of experience where he may be appealed to as final authority for all. Perhaps the sum total of the general Christian consciousness would prove a more reliable guide, or the Church in so far as it embodies this consciousness. But it also still falls short of its final glory. It is in the process of development toward perfection, but it has not yet reached that stage, and will not reach it until the consciousness of every individual contributing to it reflects the consciousness of Jesus himself. Then, and then only, can it be appealed to as an ultimate criterion in matters religious or Christian, including the specific question under consideration: What in the Old Testament is from God, and so, permanent, and what is due to the human limitations of the authors, and so, temporary and local?

It seems, therefore, necessary to appeal at the present time to what may be called, in a sense, an external standard: the spirit, the teaching, and the life of Jesus as it may be determined objectively from the gospel records. The supreme position occupied by Jesus the Christ in Christian thinking is well described by W. N. Clarke: "He [Jesus Christ] has shown God as he is in his character and relations with men. He has represented life in its true meaning, and opened to us the real way to genuine welfare and success in existence. {37} What he has made known commends and proves itself as true by the manner in which it fits into the human scheme, meets human needs, and renders thought rational and life successful. God eternally is such a being as Jesus represents him to be -- this is the heart of Christianity, to be apprehended, not first in thought but first in life and love, and this is forever true. And it is a revelation never to be superseded, but forever to be better and better known."[9] By this standard, called by Clarke the Christian element in the Bible, the Old Testament teaching must be measured; and by the application of this standard alone is it possible to separate the human from the divine and to estimate rightly the permanent value of Old or New Testament teaching. Whatever in the Scriptures endures this test may be received as of permanent religious value, because it is divine in the deepest sense.


[1] Modern Criticism and the Preaching of the Old Testament, p.19.

[2] Studies in Christianity, p.73.

[3] Primitive Semitic Religions To-day, p.14.

[4] Letters on the Inspiration of the Scriptures, Letter I.

[5] Quoted in the Old Testament Student, Vol. VIII, p.84.

[6] The Law and the Prophets, p.16.

[7] The Bible, Its Origin and Nature, pp.160, 161.

[8] 1 Cor.2.15.

[9] The Use of the Scriptures in Theology, pp.51, 52.

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