The Old Testament and Modern Criticism
No careful observer can doubt that modern criticism has exerted a marked influence upon the attitude of many Christian people toward the Bible. Both those in sympathy with new ideas and those opposed to them frequently speak of the crisis which this criticism has brought about. "It does seem," says John E. McFadyen, a believer in the methods and results of modern criticism, "that the Church to-day in all her branches is face to face with a crisis of the most serious kind."[1] On the other hand, John Smith, a determined opponent of criticism, writes concerning the conclusions of the latter: "They conflict with the profoundest certitudes of the faith, must inevitably alter the foundation on which from the beginning our holy religion has stood before the world, and, consequently, so far as a theory can, must obstruct her mission and abridge her influence."[2] Whether the crisis is as acute as is here implied or not, there seems to be much concern among devout believers in the Bible about the bearing of modern criticism upon the value of the book they dearly love. In the nature {67} of the case, limitation of space forbids an exhaustive discussion of this interesting subject here. There are, however, three questions which are worthy of serious consideration: (1) What is modern criticism? (2) What are the more important conclusions of criticism that have secured wide recognition? (3) What is the bearing of these conclusions, if true, upon the Christian view of the Old Testament?

What, then, is biblical criticism? It is defined by Nash as "the free study of all the facts,"[3] which definition McFadyen expands so as to read, "the free and reverent study of all the biblical facts."[4] Criticism is study, which means careful investigation rather than superficial reading followed by hasty or unfounded conclusions. The investigation is free in the sense that though it is not disrespectful to traditional beliefs, it is not prevented by them from marking out new paths if the facts so demand. It is reverent because it deals with a book that has played a unique part in the religious life and thought of many centuries, and has been received as a book in which the voice of God may be heard. It is primarily a study of the facts presented by the book, not of theories or speculations, though in the study of these facts much may be learned from the theories of the past, and the study may give rise to new theories. In order to be {68} thoroughly scientific, it must have due regard for all the facts in the case. For convenience sake it has become customary to distinguish four phases of Old Testament, or biblical, criticism: (1) Textual Criticism; (2) Linguistic Criticism; (3) Literary Criticism; and (4) Historical Criticism.

Close students of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament have been compelled to admit that even the oldest Hebrew manuscripts now known are not free from errors and blemishes, and it is the office of textual criticism to remove such errors by the use of all legitimate methods and means and to restore the ipsissima verba of the author. The presence of corruptions in the text is established by facts like these: (1) There are passages in which the text as it stands cannot be translated without violence to the laws of grammar, or, which are irreconcilable with the context or with other passages. For example, in 1 Sam.3.1 the Authorized Version reads, "Saul reigned one year, and when he had reigned two years over Israel." This translation does violence to the laws of Hebrew grammar. The Hebrew reads, literally, "The son of a year was Saul in his reigning," which may be rendered, "Saul was a year old when he began to reign." The narratives concerning events in the life of Saul before he became king make it clear that this statement is not correct. Perhaps the scribe, in writing the {69} formula, which is the usual formula for stating a king's age at his accession, left a space for the numeral to be filled in later, and forgot the omission; or the numeral has accidentally dropped out. In this case, it is the duty of textual criticism to supply, if possible, the age of Saul when he was made king. In the absence of all external evidence the textual critic must fall back upon conjecture. This the translators of the Revised Version did, for in the English Revised Version we find in brackets the word "thirty," in the American Revised Version "forty." In this special case the assured results of textual criticism are purely negative, in that they have established the fact that the present text cannot be correct. The attempt to restore the original text rests upon conjecture. (2) Parallel passages differ in such a manner as to make it certain that the variations are largely due to textual corruption. A good illustration is seen in Psa.18, when compared with 2 Sam.22. These two passages were undoubtedly identical in the beginning; but even the oldest existing manuscripts show more than seventy variants between the two chapters. (3) Some of the ancient versions contain readings which often bear a strong stamp of probability and remove or lessen the difficulties of the Hebrew text. For example, in Josh.9.4, where the Hebrew reads, "And they {70} went and made as if they had been ambassadors," the Septuagint reads, "And they went and provisioned themselves." The latter reading is supported by nearly all the ancient versions, and seems more probable than that of the Hebrew text. Another illustration of a similar character is found in Psa.22.16c, which is translated by both the Authorized and the Revised Version, "They pierced my hands and my feet." This, however, is not a translation of the Hebrew at all, for it reads, "Like a lion, my hands and my feet." In this case the New Testament, as well as the Latin and Syriac translations, supports the reading of the Septuagint. Passages like these, in which the text has evidently suffered in the course of transmission, might be multiplied a hundredfold, and it is generally considered a legitimate ambition to attempt the restoration of the Hebrew text to its original form.

Linguistic criticism deals with difficult and obscure passages. Sometimes the meaning of single words or phrases is uncertain, as, for example, in Isa.53.1, which reads, in the Authorized Version, "Who hath believed our report?" The margin gives as alternatives for "report" the words "doctrine" and "hearing." The Revised Version reads, "Who hath believed our message?" with a marginal note, "Or, that which we have heard." In form the word translated "message" {71} is a passive participle, meaning, literally, "that which has been heard." Surely, no one would consider "report," "doctrine," "hearing," "message," etc., synonymous. It is the duty of linguistic criticism to determine the exact meaning of the word. Sometimes grammatical constructions are ambiguous. Very familiar are the words in Isa.6.3, "Holy, holy, holy, is Jehovah of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory." The margin suggests as an alternative for the last clause, "the fullness of the whole earth is his glory," which might mean something entirely different from the ordinary rendering. There are other passages, some among the sublimest prophetic utterances, in which it is by no means clear whether the reference is to the past or to the present or to the future. There is, indeed, plenty of room for the most painstaking work of the linguistic critic.

The literary criticism concerns itself with the literary history of Old Testament books. The Bible may be more than a human production, but in outward form it has the appearance of an ordinary work of literature; and, so far as its history as a collection of literary productions is concerned, it has not escaped the fortunes or misfortunes of other ancient literary works. It is a well-known fact that extra-biblical books, religious and secular, have come down from the {72} distant past bearing the names of men who cannot have been their authors; for example, the Gospel of Peter, or the Ascension of Isaiah. Some ancient books have been interpolated and added to from time to time; for example, the Sibylline Oracles, the religious books of the Hindus. Some ancient books are compilations rather than original productions; for example, the Diatessaron of Tatian, or the religious books of the Babylonians, which give abundant evidence of compilation. The discoveries of these phenomena in extra-biblical books naturally raised the question whether similar phenomena might not be found in the books of the Old Testament. It is the duty of literary criticism to throw light on these questions; to decide whether all the Old Testament books are rightly ascribed to the men whose names they bear, whether they are original productions or compilations from earlier material, and whether any of the books have received additions or interpolations in the course of their literary history.

Hand in hand with literary criticism goes historical criticism. The student of Old Testament history seeks to trace the development of the history of Israel by combining in a scientific manner the historical material scattered throughout the Old Testament. In doing this he is compelled to determine the value of the sources {73} from which he gathers information. To do this is the duty of historical criticism. It inquires, for example, whether the records are approximately contemporaneous with the events they record; if so, whether the writers were qualified to observe the events accurately, or to record and interpret them correctly; and, if the accounts were written a considerable time subsequent to the events recorded, whether they were colored in any way by the beliefs and practices of the time in which they were written or compiled. This line of investigation is almost thrust upon the Bible student by a comparison of the books of Kings with the books of Chronicles, which in many portions cover the same ground; and yet, there are marked differences between the descriptions of the two.

These are the different phases of criticism. Ordinarily, however, only two kinds are distinguished: the lower, or textual criticism, and the higher criticism. The aims of textual criticism are described above. The higher criticism combines the functions of literary and historical criticism, while linguistic criticism is considered a part of exegesis or interpretation, not a separate branch of Bible study. The legitimacy of textual criticism is universally recognized. Its importance in a comprehensive study of the Bible is clearly implied in these words of W. H. Green, a {74} generation ago the best known defender of the traditional view of the Old Testament: "Its function is to determine, by a careful examination of all the evidence bearing upon the case, the condition of the sacred text, the measure of its correspondence with, or divergence from, the exact language of the inspired penman, and by means of all available helps to remove the errors which may have gained admission to it from whatever cause, and to restore the text to its pristine purity as it came from the hands of the original writers.... It is not an arbitrary but a judicial process, based on fixed and intelligible principles and conducted in a determinate manner, in which all the evidence is diligently collected, thoroughly sifted, and accurately weighed, and the decision given in accordance with the ascertained facts."[5]

No exception is taken to linguistic criticism as a legitimate part of exegesis, but at the mention of higher criticism many good men and women become greatly disturbed, for they seem to look upon it as a handmaid of Satan. A few expressions will illustrate the feeling with which some regard this kind of study: One writer says, "Neither hard times nor higher criticism nor infidelity ... has any effect upon the sale of the Divine Scriptures." He evidently places higher criticism on a par with infidelity. Again: "The so-called higher critics, it is well known, are constantly {75} trying to shake the faith of the Christian by telling him that the books of the Bible were not written by the men whose names are usually given as the human authors." Another writer declares that the higher critics allege that the Bible is "the off-spring of incompetence and fraud." One more quotation may suffice: "Higher criticism tends invariably ... to absolute rationalism and the discrediting of inspiration." Now, if higher criticism is on a par with infidelity, if it declares the Bible to be the "offspring of incompetence and fraud," if it constantly tries to shake the faith of Christians, if it tends invariably to absolute rationalism and discredits inspiration -- if it does these things, then the Christian Church may well look upon it with dread and alarm. Whether or not higher criticism is guilty of the things charged against it will probably appear in the further discussion, for from now on chief emphasis will be placed upon the bearing of the higher criticism on the Christian view of the Old Testament.

First of all, it may be well to define, if possible, the term "higher criticism." It is too often assumed by those who should know better, that the adjective "higher" exhibits the arrogance of those using it, who claim thereby an unwarranted precedence for their methods. This assumption is erroneous, for the adjective is used {76} simply to distinguish this kind of criticism from the lower or textual criticism, which, since its purpose is to fix the exact text of a book, necessarily precedes the application of the processes of the higher criticism. The designation may be unfortunate, but thus far no clearer or less objectionable substitute has been found. But what is higher criticism? Higher criticism may be defined as a process of scientific investigation for the purpose of determining the origin, original form, and intended value of literary productions. It cannot be emphasized too strongly that higher criticism is nothing more than a process of study or investigation. It is not a set of conclusions respecting the books of the Bible; it is not a philosophical principle underlying the investigation; it is not a certain attitude of mind toward the Bible; it is not a theory of inspiration nor a denial of inspiration. Higher criticism is none of these things. It is simply a process of study to determine certain truths concerning literary productions.

Again, higher criticism, as a process of study, is not confined to the study of the Bible. It was applied to extra-biblical books long before there was any thought of applying it to the Old or New Testament. Eichhorn, who first applied the term to Old Testament study, has this to say: "I have been obliged to bestow the greatest {77} amount of labor on a hitherto entirely unworked field: the investigation of the inner constitution of the separate books of the Old Testament by the aid of the higher criticism, a new name to no humanist."[6]

Once more: the higher criticism as such is not opposed to traditional views. In the words of Professor Zenos: "Its relation to the old and the new views respectively is one of indifference. It may result in the confirmation of the old, or in the substitution of the new for the old.... It is no respecter of antiquity or novelty; its aim is to discover and verify the truth, to bring facts to light whether these validate or invalidate previously held opinions."[7] It is a grave mistake, therefore, to attribute to higher criticism an essentially destructive purpose. In reality, it has confirmed traditional views at least as often as it has shown them to be untenable. It does not approach its investigations even with a suspicion of the correctness of tradition; it starts out with the tradition, it accepts it as correct until the process of investigation has brought to light facts and indications which cannot be harmonized with tradition. In such a case criticism believes itself bound to supply a satisfactory explanation of the facts, though such explanation may be contrary to the claims of tradition. Any student Who approaches the inquiry in a spirit {78} different from that here indicated introduces into his investigation elements that are not a part of higher criticism as such, and the latter cannot and should not be held accountable for them.

That it is desirable to answer questions concerning the origin, form, and value of biblical books no one will dispute. C. M. Mead, exceedingly cautious and conservative, says: "I regard the higher criticism as not only legitimate but as useful, and indiscriminate condemnation of it as foolish. Genuine criticism is nothing but the search after truth, and of this there cannot be too much."[8] No literary production in the Bible or outside of the Bible can be fully understood unless the interpreter has a full knowledge of its origin, its author, and its first readers. When, where, by whom, to whom, under what circumstances, for what purpose? -- an answer to these and similar questions will wonderfully illuminate the message of a book. A knowledge of the form of the writing is also essential to a proper understanding of the same. Is it history or poetry? is it narrative or prediction? or any one of the various kinds of literature? In a similar manner it is important, though not always easy, to know the value a given literary work was intended to have. Is it to be understood as literal history? Is its essential purpose didactic, without special regard for historic accuracy in {79} every detail? Are the religious and ethical truths taught intended to be final, or do they mark a stage in the development toward perfection and finality? These and other important questions of a similar nature the higher criticism seeks to answer.

Some one may say, "Scholars in all ages have sought to answer these questions; why is it, then, that modern higher criticism reaches conclusions concerning the origin, form, and value of Old Testament writings not dreamed of a few centuries ago?" This is a legitimate question, but the answer is not far to seek. It may best be answered by asking another question: Men in all ages have studied the earth, the sun, the stars, and other phenomena of nature; how is it that modern scientists have reached conclusions unknown and undreamed of a few centuries ago? The modern higher criticism, like all modern science, is the outgrowth of the awakening during the Middle Ages which revolutionized the whole world of science, literature, and religion. The Renaissance aroused men's interest in literature and science, the Reformation aroused men's interest in religion as a personal experience. In the Renaissance men began to think for themselves in matters of science and literature; in the Reformation they began to think for themselves in matters of religion. It was inevitable that {80} the awakening of thought and the substitution of reason for authority in science, secular literature, and secular history should ultimately affect sacred history and sacred literature as well.[9]

Chronologically, it is true, the work of higher criticism began even before the time of the Renaissance among Spanish Jews. But this Jewish criticism did not at the time exert any influence in the Christian Church. Only after criticism had secured a foothold among Christian scholars were the results of Jewish investigation made use of. In the same way the purely negative conclusions of some of the early Christian heretics, based upon dogmatic considerations rather than historical investigations, have no organic connection with the investigations and results of modern criticism. It is perfectly correct, therefore, to state that the modern higher criticism had its birth in the great awakening of the Renaissance and the Reformation. They gave to it a life and an impetus which from that day to this have not abated in the least. Some of the reformers themselves and their coworkers advanced views which later investigation has confirmed and expanded. Carlstadt, for example, the friend and coworker of Luther, published in 1520 an essay in which he argued, on the ground that the style of narration in the account of Moses's death which, he believed, was not written by Moses, was {81} the same as in the preceding chapters, that it might be held that Moses did not write the entire Pentateuch. The freedom with which Luther criticized both the Old and the New Testament books is well known. Concerning the Old Testament, he admitted that the books of Kings were more credible than Chronicles. "What would it matter," he asks, "if Moses did not write the Pentateuch?" He thinks it probable that Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, and Ecclesiastes received their final form at the hands of redactors. The testimony of the psalm titles he does not regard as conclusive. He admits chronological difficulties and contradictions in the statements of historical facts. He concedes that we do not always hear God himself speaking in the Old Testament. Esther might well have been left out of the canon, and First Maccabees might have been included. If this is not criticism, what is?

The case of Luther has been mentioned simply to show the absurdity of the claim that modern higher criticism is the outgrowth of German rationalism or English deism or infidelity; or that a man who pursues Old Testament study on the line of the higher criticism is necessarily an infidel, a rationalist, or a fool. True, there have been and are those out of sympathy with Christianity or the Bible who have employed critical methods in carrying on their anti-Christian warfare; but {82} such misuse of critical methods no more proves the illegitimacy of this process of investigation than the employment of a surgical instrument, which, in the hands of a skillful surgeon, may be the means of saving a diseased organism, by a murderer to carry out his destructive aim, would prove that the use of all surgical instruments is unscientific or criminal. The vast majority of the so-called higher critics do not deserve the denunciations heaped upon them by some who consider themselves sole defenders of the faith. Most of them are Christian men whose loyalty to Christ, whose devotion to the truth, and whose sincerity of motive no one has reason or right to question or doubt. It is exceedingly unfortunate that many writers have failed to recognize this fact. No one acquainted with the history of biblical criticism can accept the following as a true characterization of serious critics: "I mean by professional critic, one who spends his time and strength in trying to find some error or discrepancy in the Bible; and, if he thinks he does, rejoiceth as 'one who findeth great spoil'; who hopes, while he works, that he may succeed, thinking thereby to obtain a name and notoriety for himself."[10] In a similar spirit Sir Robert Anderson speaks of "the foreign infidel type of scholar ... as ignorant of man and his needs as a monk, and as ignorant of God and his ways as a monkey."[11] {83} Such abuse is unchristian, and no good can be accomplished by it. The truth of the matter is more adequately expressed by James Orr when he says: "There are, one must own, few outstanding scholars at the present day on the Continent or in Britain -- in America it is somewhat different -- who do not in greater or less degree accept conclusions regarding the Old Testament of the kind ordinarily denominated critical. Yet among the foremost are many whom no one who understands their work would dream as classing as other than believing, and defenders of revealed religion."[12] Then, after mentioning a number of scholars, he describes them as "all more or less critics, but all convinced upholders of supernatural revelation." But even among these Christian, evangelical, higher critics a distinction must be made between two classes. The one may be called, for want of a better name, traditional, because its adherents insist that their investigations on the line of the higher criticism have confirmed in all essentials the positions held during many centuries. It should be noted, however, that many scholars who are sometimes quoted as upholders of the traditional view are ready to make many concessions to those who believe that the traditional views are no longer tenable.[13] On the other hand is a class of critics which may be called nontraditional, critics who claim that {84} their investigations, while confirming the truth of many traditional positions, compel them in other cases to set aside the traditional views in favor of some more in accord with the facts in the case. It may be difficult to state all the causes responsible for the differences in the conclusions of these two classes of critics. However, the writings of some scholars in the former class seem to show that the authors are influenced, to some extent at least, by the fear that further concessions would affect the Christian theory of inspiration. Another cause may be found in the fact that the present generation of Old Testament scholars received its training largely at the hands of those accustomed to the traditional viewpoint; the influence of this early training manifests itself to some extent in the present attitude. A more important cause, however, is supplied by the nature of the evidence upon the basis of which these critical questions must be settled. Mathematical demonstration is impossible in very many cases. The critic must be qualified to estimate probabilities, and various degrees of probability, depending upon the nature of the grounds on which it rests. In the nature of the case, the personal element enters into the estimate of the degree of probability. What to some may appear a high degree of probability, or amount to practical certainty, may to another investigator, perhaps less familiar with {85} the facts in the case, appear of less value and lead him to reject the conclusion entirely. As long as this condition of affairs continues -- and there is no reason to suppose that it ever will be otherwise -- perfect agreement among critical investigators need not be expected; but a fair and thorough examination of the facts by all must be insisted upon.

It is not necessary to enlarge upon the views of the traditional class of critics, for theirs are the views with which most Christians now living have been familiar since their childhood. In order to understand, however, the bearing of the nontraditional criticism upon the Christian view of the Old Testament it is necessary to consider the most important conclusions of the nontraditional class of evangelical criticism; and to these conclusions we may now turn our attention.

1. Modern criticism has placed into clearer light the progressive character of Old Testament revelation. God is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever, but man has taken many advance steps; and as he advanced his spiritual capacities and powers of apprehension increased. This growth enabled him to secure, from generation to generation and from century to century, during the Old Testament dispensation, an ever-broadening and deepening conception of the nature and character of God and of his will. The Old {86} Testament books, says Kent, are "the harmonious and many-sided record of ten centuries of strenuous human endeavor to know and to do the will of God, and of his full and gracious response to that effort."[14]

2. Formerly the beginning of the Old Testament canon was traced to Moses. He was thought not only to have written the books of the Pentateuch but to have given to them official sanction as canonical books. To these books were gradually added the other sacred writings of the Old Testament on the authority of the divinely chosen successors of Moses, like Joshua, Samuel, and the prophets. The close of the canon was ascribed to Ezra, who, according to later views, had to share the honor with the men of the Great Synagogue. Modern criticism assigns new dates to some of the Old Testament books; it believes that the exile was a period of great spiritual and intellectual activity, and a number of books are placed subsequent to Ezra and Nehemiah, which in itself would imply a denial of the view that the canon was finally closed in the days of Ezra. The modern critical view is that the Old Testament books were canonized -- whatever the dates of their writing -- gradually and at a comparatively late period. The canonization of the Law is placed at about B.C.400, that of the Prophets between B.C.250 and B.C.180, while the third {87} division of the Jewish canon, the Writings, is believed to have acquired canonical authority during the second and first centuries B.C.

3. Formerly the order of the Old Testament books determined largely the view of the development of Hebrew religion. Just as in the New Testament the Gospels occupy first place, the Epistles being expositions of the principles laid down in the Gospels, so it was thought that the Law of the Pentateuch, coming from the hands of Moses, served as the basis of the religious development of the Hebrews during subsequent centuries. The prophets were looked upon chiefly as expounders and interpreters of this Law. Modern criticism has introduced a change of viewpoint. It does not deny the pre-exilic existence of all law, or of sacrifice, or of a ceremonial, or of other priestly elements, but it believes that in the religious development of Israel, the pre-exilic period was preeminently the period of the prophets, while the religious life during the post-exilic period was dominated by the priests, the priestly type of religion finding literary expression in the ceremonial system embodied in the Pentateuch.

4. According to modern criticism, compilation had a prominent place in the production of Old Testament books. The composite character of the Pentateuch is touched upon in the next paragraph, but, in addition, it is believed that {88} there is sufficient evidence to establish the composite character of practically all the other historical books. McFadyen accurately represents the modern viewpoint when he says, "In the light of all these facts the general possibility, if not the practical certainty, of the compositeness of the historical books may be conceded."[15] Evidences of compilation are seen also in several of the prophetic books. The assignment of Isaiah and Zechariah to more than one author each furnishes perhaps the best known examples, but other prophetic books are similarly divided.

5. The Pentateuch is no longer assigned in its entirety to Moses; it is thought, rather, to contain material selected from four different sources, which the compiler had before him in writing.[16] These documents did not reach their final form until some time subsequent to Moses, but all of them contained ancient material, much of it going back to the time of Moses, some of it even to pre-Mosaic days. Among the contents of the Pentateuch special attention is called to three legal codes -- the Book of the Covenant, the Deuteronomic Code, and the Priestly Code -- belonging to different periods in Hebrew history, and reflecting different stages in the religious and social development of the nation. The Deuteronomic Code, in some form, is believed to have been the basis of the reforms instituted by Josiah {89} and to have been written most probably during the early part of the seventh century. On these general questions respecting the Pentateuch there seems to be general agreement among critical scholars; on the other hand, there is wide divergence of opinion concerning points of detail, such as the chronological order in which the several documents reached their final form, their exact dates, the manner and time of their compilation, the detailed distribution of the material among the several sources, etc. The differences of opinion on these points are due to the fact that the data upon the basis of which the problems must be solved are not sufficiently numerous or decisive.

6. Doubt is thrown upon the authorship of a number of Old Testament books, or parts of books, which have been assigned to certain authors by both Jewish and Christian tradition. As already stated, the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch is denied; the book of Lamentation is taken away from Jeremiah; parts of Isaiah and Zechariah and the whole of Daniel are assigned to persons other than the prophets bearing these names. The accuracy of the psalm titles is questioned; few of the psalms, if any, are assigned to David or his age; and most of the psalms -- by some scholars all -- are placed in the post-exilic period. A conservative scholar, like W. T. Davison, is not willing to say more than "that {90} from ten to twenty psalms -- including 3, 4, 7, 8, 15, 18, 23, 24, 32, and perhaps 101 and 110 -- may have come down to us from David's pen, but that the number can hardly be greater, and may be still less."[17] The same uncertainty is believed to exist respecting the authorship of Proverbs and of Ecclesiastes, which is considered one of the latest books in the Old Testament canon. Other books, like Job, which in the absence of external testimony were formerly assigned to an early date, are now placed in the later period of Hebrew history.

In addition to these results touching upon matters practically unrecognized before, the higher criticism has emphasized some truths which, though known, exerted little, if any, influence upon the conception or study of the Old Testament. Of these perhaps the most important are, first, that the Old Testament is not so much a single book as a library consisting of many books of different dates and authorship, though all these books may be held together by one common spirit and purpose;[18] and, second, that in these books are represented practically all the various forms and kinds of literary composition that can be found in the literatures of other nations.

These are perhaps the most important conclusions reached by the nontraditional higher critics. Some may not be willing to admit that {91} these conclusions are well founded, and, indeed, the cautious among the critics very candidly state that in most cases scientific demonstration is impossible, that probability of varying degrees is an important element in the conclusions; but unless one has followed those who have reached the conclusions into every detail of their investigation, he is hardly competent to pass a valid judgment. And it is well to remember what seems to be an indisputable fact, that with very few exceptions Old Testament experts everywhere agree essentially on these results, and that an ever-increasing number of serious Old Testament students whose competency and sincerity cannot be doubted feel compelled to accept these conclusions, convinced that the traditional views cannot be maintained without numerous modifications. This fact may not establish the truth of these conclusions; nevertheless, it may serve as a sufficient reason for the consideration of another question: Should the truth of the conclusions enumerated be established beyond a possibility of doubt, what would be the effect upon the Christian conception of the Old Testament? What would become of its inspiration or authority, of the supernatural in its history, of the work and character of Moses, Isaiah, or David; and, perhaps most important of all, what effect would this have upon the authority of Jesus Christ himself?


The most important and vital of these questions may be considered first. How do the conclusions of the nontraditional higher criticism affect the authority of Jesus Christ? This question arises chiefly in connection with investigations into the authorship of Old Testament books, especially of the Pentateuch, the Psalms, and Isaiah. It is asserted that since Christ quotes and refers to passages from the books bearing the names of Moses, David, and Isaiah, apparently as if they had been written by these men, any claim that these passages were not written by the authors mentioned is an indication of unbelief, an insult to Christ, and a denial of his authority. "If Moses did not write the Pentateuch," says L. W. Munhall, "or any portion of it, and the highest critics (Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit) declare he did, it would be a lie. It would be none the less a lie, even though the Jews held traditionally that Moses was the author of these books. The testimony of the Highest Critics is absolutely unerringly and eternally true, and he who hesitates to receive it as against all other testimonies is disloyal to the truth."[19] Clearly, this statement is based upon the assumption that Jesus gave deliberate decisions on questions of authorship, which assumption cannot be substantiated. In the first place, it is well to note that in less than one fifth of the New Testament {93} quotations from the Old Testament is a personal name connected with the quotation; Jesus himself, in quoting from the Pentateuch and other Old Testament books, frequently omits all reference to the alleged author, which shows that he considered the question of authorship of no special significance in comparison with the truth taught. Moreover, in some cases at least, the exact form of quotation is doubtful. Compare, for example, Matt.15.4, "God said," with Mark 7.10, "Moses said"; and Luke 20.37, "Moses showed, in the place concerning the Bush," with Mark 12.26, "Have ye not read in the book of Moses, in the place concerning the Bush how God spake unto him," with Matt.22.31, which, referring to the same statement, introduces it by, "Have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God?" Which one of the evangelists has preserved the actual words of Jesus?

But even admitting that Jesus used in these and other passages a personal name, does this imply a decision respecting authorship? In extra-biblical literature no one would raise serious objection to the use of the name of a man to designate a book without implying that the man named was the author of the entire book. This is done also in the New Testament. In the sermon of Peter, "Samuel" evidently is used in the sense of "book of Samuel," for the reference {94} is not to an utterance of Samuel but of Nathan,[20] and it cannot imply authorship, for some of the events recorded in First Samuel and those in Second Samuel occurred after Samuel's death. In the Epistle to the Hebrews,[21] a psalm is referred to as "David," which is not even by the title assigned to the great king of Israel.[22] Might it not be, therefore, that "Moses" was used as a designation of a book, without a thought of authorship. This seems to be the case in 2 Cor.3.15: "Whensoever Moses is read, a veil lieth upon their heart."[23] All these facts suggest that while Jesus frequently quotes the Pentateuch, and in some cases connects the name of Moses with it, he never does so to prove that Moses wrote it. W. T. Davison describes the situation correctly when he writes, "A study of the whole use of the Old Testament made by Christ in his teaching shows that the questions of date and authorship with which criticism is chiefly concerned were not before the mind of our Lord as he spoke, nor was it his object to pronounce upon them."[24]

But even admitting that the references of Jesus imply in some cases a recognition of authorship, the question still remains whether the few passages quoted carry with them the authorship of the entire book from which the quotations are made. There are even some conservative scholars who {95} answer this question in the negative. After enumerating some of the passages referred to by Jesus as coming from Moses, C. H. H. Wright continues: "All, however, that can be fairly deduced from such statements is, the Pentateuch contains portions written by Moses. It does not follow that the five books as a whole were written by that lawgiver."[25] Though this explanation seems satisfactory to some, others consider it somewhat forced and unnatural, and they are inclined to give different interpretations of the words of Jesus.

Many hold that in his references to Old Testament books Jesus accommodated himself to the usage of the Jews without indorsing their views or giving expression to his own, even though he knew that the commonly held opinions as to the authorship of certain Old Testament books were erroneous. Those who advocate this view believe that their attitude in no wise dishonors the Master. Indeed, they say, one cannot easily see what other course he could have taken. Jesus had come to reveal the Father, to bring a fallen race into harmony with a holy God. Surely, the task was great, and there was but little time in which to accomplish it. If he had turned aside from his chief purpose to settle scientific and literary questions which were not under discussion among the people, he would have aroused popular {96} opposition and thus have hindered his chief work. In no case do his references imply that he desired to pronounce an authoritative critical judgment, and in no case does the value of the quotation depend upon its authorship. Looking at the matter, therefore, from a pedagogical standpoint, it would seem that, in view of his important mission in the world, he was compelled to accommodate himself to the views of the people in all matters not essential to his work.

This view seems entirely satisfactory to many sincere Christian believers. There are, however, those who maintain that it would not have been legitimate for Jesus thus to accommodate himself to the usage of the people if he had known that their views were not in accord with the facts; nevertheless, they insist that his utterances do not settle purely literary questions. They believe that Jesus shared the views of the people, that he actually thought that Moses wrote the entire Pentateuch, and Isaiah, the whole of the book bearing his name; but that this was a limitation of knowledge on his part. And they further insist that this attitude toward Jesus in no wise affects the supreme and final authority of the Christ over the lives of men. The entire life of the Master, they say, shows that he regarded his mission as spiritual; he did not come to correct all errors, but merely those touching religion and {97} ethics; and even here he did not give detailed specific rules. In many cases he simply laid down great principles, which in time might be worked out and applied to the details of human activity. He did not abolish slavery, he made no efforts to correct errors in science; why should he correct erroneous views respecting literary and critical questions? These were outside of his immediate sphere of interest. His knowledge or ignorance in these secondary matters does not necessarily involve his knowledge or authority in essentials.[26] Again, while Christ was God, he was also truly man. This union of the divine with the human, if real, must have brought some limitations. And the New Testament clearly teaches that in some respects the powers of Christ were limited. His omnipotence was limited, else he could not have felt hunger, weariness, pain, etc. As strength was needed, it was supplied. It may have been there potentially, but not actually. Might it not have been the same with omniscience? In one case, at least, Jesus admits that his knowledge was limited: "But of that day or hour knoweth no one, not even the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father."[27] And, surely, that which, according to this admission, was hidden from Jesus was, as compared with a question of the authorship of a biblical book, of infinitely greater importance. It would seem, therefore, {98} that B. P. Raymond is right when he says: "To affirm that he had knowledge of the critical questions which agitate Christian scholars to-day is to deny that he was made like unto his brethren. It is to compromise the reality of his humanity and to start on the road that leads to docetism. Fairbairn's conclusions are just; 'The humanity of the Saviour must be absolutely real.'"[28]

There are, then, three explanations of the references of Christ to the authorship of Old Testament books, each one of which seems perfectly fair, natural, and, above all, scriptural; and each one shows that his utterances do not finally settle purely literary questions. This conclusion, since it is in perfect accord with the New Testament, can in no wise be construed as an insult to the Christ, nor does it affect in the least the authority of Jesus in matters religious and ethical. What is said here of the words of Jesus is equally true, with some slight modifications, of similar New Testament references coming, not from Jesus directly, but from the authors of the New Testament books.

From the consideration of this question of vital interest we may turn to another, also of great importance, namely, what is the effect of critical conclusions upon the belief in the inspiration of the Old Testament, in the supernatural in its history, and in its authority? All these questions {99} center in one, for inspiration implies the presence of a supernatural element, and the authority of the Old Testament depends upon the reality of its inspiration. Hence the real question is, Have the conclusions of the higher criticism disproved, or in any serious way affected, the reality of the inspiration of the Old Testament writers? This inquiry must be answered with an emphatic "No." Inspiration does not depend upon the fact that a certain definite individual is responsible for a writing. A book is inspired because God is back of it and in it, and not because a certain man wrote it. Nor does belief in inspiration depend upon the knowledge of the human author, else how could Christians believe in the inspiration of the men who wrote books like the Epistle to the Hebrews, the book of Job, the books of Samuel, and other biblical books whose authors are not named? Moreover, an inspired book does not lose its inspiration because it is discovered that the human agent inspired is one different from the man to whom tradition has been accustomed to assign the book. Would the laws of the Pentateuch be any less divine if it should be proved that they were the product of the experience of the chosen people from the time of Moses to the exile? Would the Psalms cease to lift us into the presence of God, if it should be demonstrated that most of them came {100} from a period later than David? Is the book of Job less majestic and sublime because we know not the time or place of its birth? Are the Proverbs less instructive because criticism claims that they do not all come from the son of David?[29]

Once more: inspiration is not confined to any form of literature; a parable may be as truly inspired as history; and the inspiration of a book does not vanish when it is assigned to one form of literature rather than to another. The conclusions of the legitimate higher criticism in no wise tend toward a denial of the inspiration of the Old Testament. Inspiration, the special divine providence over Israel, God's interference in the history of the chosen people, would stand out as prominently as ever if every claim of the higher criticism should be proved true. Most critical scholars are ready to indorse the words of Professor Sanday: "My experience is that criticism leads straight up to the supernatural, and not away from it."[30] But if this be true, how can any authority which rightly belongs to the Old Testament be affected by criticism? This authority belongs to it by virtue of its inspiration, and the voice of God is not silenced by the conclusions of modern criticism.

"But," some one will say, "if this is true how is it that criticism has been and still is condemned unsparingly by many men whose sincerity {101} and love for the truth cannot be called into question?" There are several reasons for this. In the first place even some very intelligent men seem to misunderstand both the purpose and the claims of the higher criticism. Another reason is that there are even among the evangelical critics those who lack judgment, and who permit themselves to draw inferences unwarranted by the facts in the case. As a consequence, ill-informed persons have concluded that all the results of criticism are unwarranted by the facts. A third reason is that some critics are arrogant and obnoxious in the presentation of their views, and, therefore, bring the entire process into disrepute. A fourth, and perhaps the most important, reason is that in addition to the legitimate higher criticism discussed in the preceding pages there is an illegitimate criticism which very frequently, though erroneously, is thought to be the only kind of criticism practiced. This criticism also studies the facts, but -- and this is its distinguishing feature -- its investigations are colored by certain presuppositions, such as the belief in a materialistic or deistic evolution, in the presence of which there is no room for inspiration, or for the supernatural, or for miracles, in the Christian sense of these terms. This kind of criticism is not legitimate, because it is not scientific, proceeding as it does on the basis of an unestablished, {102} unchristian, and impossible view of the universe. But higher critics belonging to this class are few in number, and fairness and Christian courtesy demand that in any discussion of the subject clear distinctions should be made between this criticism and that process of investigation which is not only legitimate, but indispensable. It is also well to bear in mind that the conclusions of the illegitimate criticism will never be disproved by denunciation, but, rather, by the careful and painstaking labors of those critics who approach their studies without these unwarranted assumptions.

One more question remains to be considered, namely, What becomes of the men from whom criticism takes away at least part of the writings traditionally connected with their names? Preeminent among these are Moses, Isaiah, and David. Moses is not, as is sometimes erroneously asserted, removed to the realm of myths.[31] To prove this assertion it is only necessary to quote the words of one who accepts the results of the higher criticism as set forth above: "Moses was the man who under divine direction 'hewed Israel from the rock.' Subsequent prophets and circumstances chiseled the rough bowlder into symmetrical form, but the glory of the creative act is rightly attributed to the first great Hebrew prophet. As a leader he not only created a nation but guided them through infinite {103} vicissitudes to a land where they might have a settled abode and develop into a stable power; in so doing he left upon his race the imprint of his own mighty personality. As a judge he set in motion forces which ultimately led to the incorporation of the principles of right in objective laws. As a priest he first gave definite form to the worship of Jehovah. As a prophet he gathered together all that was best in the faith of his age and race, and, fusing them, gave to his people a living religion. Under his enlightened guidance Israel became truly and forever the people of Jehovah. Through him the Divine revealed himself to Israel as their Deliverer, Leader, and Counselor -- not afar off, but present; a God powerful and willing to succor his people, and, therefore, one to be trusted and loved as well as feared. As the acorn contains the sturdy oak in embryo, so the revelation through Moses was the germ which developed into the message of Israel to humanity."[32]

Isaiah, though losing some of the sublimest passages in the book, is still the king among the prophets. In the words of Ewald, a pronounced advocate of the conclusions of modern criticism: "Of the other prophets all the more celebrated ones were distinguished by some special excellence and peculiar power, whether of speech or of deed; in Isaiah all the powers and all the beauties {104} of prophetic speech and deed combine to form a symmetrical whole; he is distinguished less by any special excellence than by the symmetry and perfection of all his parts. There are rarely combined in one individual the profoundest prophetic emotion and purest feeling, the most unwearied, successful, and consistent activity amid all the confusions and changes of life; and, lastly, true poetic genius and beauty of style, combined with force and irresistible power; yet this triad of powers we find realized in Isaiah as in no other prophet."[33]

David, indeed, loses some of his halo, if many of the most beautiful psalms are taken from him, yet he remains the man after God's own heart. "According to his light, he served the Jehovah whom he knew with marvelous fidelity and constancy.... He ruled over the united Hebrew tribes as Jehovah's representative. In his name he fought the battles against Israel's foes, whom he regarded as Jehovah's also.... From the spoils which he won in his wars he provided the means wherewith to build a fitting dwelling place for the God of his nation. The priests found in him a generous patron, and prophets like Nathan were among his most trusted counselors. To do the will of Jehovah as it was revealed to him was the dominating principle of his life. More cannot be said of any one."[34]


A splendid summary of the bearing of modern evangelical criticism upon the Christian view of the Old Testament is given by Canon Driver: "It is not the case that critical conclusions are in conflict either with the Christian creeds or with the articles of the Christian faith. Those conclusions affect not the fact of revelation but only its form. They help to determine the stages through which it passed, the different phases which it assumed, and the process by which the record of it was built up. They do not touch either the authority or the inspiration of the Scriptures of the Old Testament. They imply no change in respect to the divine attributes revealed in the Old Testament, no change in the lessons of human duty to be derived from it, no change as to the general position (apart from the interpretation of particular passages) that the Old Testament points forward prophetically to Christ. That both the religion of Israel itself and the record of its history embodied in the Old Testament are the work of men whose hearts have been touched and minds illuminated, in different degrees, by the Spirit of God is manifest."[35]

But not only has criticism not taken away anything essential from the Bible; on the contrary, it has resulted in some distinct gains. The textual criticism has furnished the modern {106} student with a much more accurate text of the biblical books, while the linguistic criticism has established the interpretation of this text upon a firmer basis. The higher criticism also has made invaluable contributions toward a more adequate understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures. It has made impossible the arbitrary and, sometimes, unreasonable interpretations of scripture which in former ages have proved a serious detriment to religion and theology. It has restored to religious use some of the biblical books almost forgotten before, and endowed them with flesh and blood by throwing bright light upon the circumstances connected with their origin. It has made it possible to secure a "reasonable, probable, and even thrilling" view of the history and religion of Israel and of the steps by which the records of these grew up. Many of the moral, religious, and historical difficulties which served as effective weapons to skeptics in all ages have disappeared, and the weapons have been snatched from the enemies of the Bible. Many of the confusions and apparent discrepancies, which according to former theories presented insurmountable difficulties, have found a satisfactory explanation. "Higher criticism," says R. F. Horton, "so much dreaded by pious souls, is furnishing a conclusive answer to the untiring opponents of revelation."[36] Everyone knows {107} that the Bible has been bitterly attacked in the past, and that such attacks have not altogether ceased even now; but it is sometimes overlooked that in the majority of cases these attacks are made by men who are, or seem to be, lamentably ignorant of the attitude and results of modern critical study. Their arguments become "absolutely powerless against the modern historical interpretation of the Bible; and the more that interpretation underlies the teaching of the young, the more certain are those attacks to die a natural death."[37]

There are, indeed, few Old Testament scholars who would not indorse the testimony of Professor A. S. Peake, given in a paper on "Permanent Results of Biblical Criticism," read before the Fourth Methodist Ecumenical Conference: "Speaking for myself, I may truthfully say that my sense of the value of Scripture, my interest in it, my attachment to it, have been almost indefinitely enhanced by the new attitude and new mode of study which criticism has brought to us."


[1] Old Testament Criticism and the Christian Church, p.1.

[2] The Integrity of Scripture, p.1.

[3] The History of the Higher Criticism of the New Testament, p.85.

[4] Old Testament Criticism and the Christian Church, p.47.


[5] General Introduction to the Old Testament: The Text, pp.162, 163.

[6] J. G. Eichhorn, Einleitung in das Alte Testament, Preface to Second Edition.

[7] The Elements of the Higher Criticism, pp.12, 13.

[8] Christ and Criticism, Preface.

[9] J. P. Peters, The Old Testament and the New Scholarship, p.87.

[10] L. W. Munhall, Anti-Higher Criticism, p.9. For a discriminating study of the theological and philosophical bias of the more representative Old Testament critics, see Bibliotheca Sacra, January, 1912, pp.1ff.

[11] The Bible and Modern Criticism, p.19.

[12] The Problem of the Old Testament, pp.7, 8.

[13] Some of these concessions are enumerated in J. E. McFadyen, Old Testament Criticism and the Christian Church, pp.15ff. The Problem of the Old Testament, by James Orr, is often quoted as overthrowing entirely the positions of modern criticism regarding the authorship of the Pentateuch. If, however, one reads Orr's summary of the chief results of his own critical investigation (pp.371ff.), the question may well be asked, Why should he be considered less of a higher critic than, for example, Wellhausen?

[14] The Origin and Permanent Value of the Old Testament, p.30.

[15] Old Testament Criticism and the Christian Church, p.143.

[16] Even those who question the existence of four independent documents assume the activity of at least four different hands.

[17] James Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. IV, p.151.

[18] See above, pp.30ff.

[19] The Highest Critics vs. The Higher Critics, pp.7, 8.


[20] Acts 3.24. The passage in the mind of the apostle seems to be 2 Sam.7.11-16.

[21] Heb.4.7.

[22] Psa.95.

[23] The origin of the designations Moses = Pentateuch, Samuel = books of Samuel, David = book of Psalms, must be explained, and can be explained; but as the mention of Samuel and David shows, it cannot always rest upon the fact of authorship, whatever the popular idea may have been.

[24] James Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. IV, p.151.

[25] Introduction to the Old Testament, p.76.

[26] See above, p.55.

[27] Mark 13.32.

[28] M. S. Terry, Moses and the Prophets, p.194.

[29] C. A. Briggs, General Introduction to the Study of Holy Scripture, p.26.

[30] Quoted in J. E. McFadyen, Old Testament Criticism and the Christian Church, p.253.

[31] Moses has, indeed, been removed by some investigators to the realm of myth, but not upon the basis of conclusions reached by the legitimate modern criticism.

[32] C. F. Kent, A History of the Hebrew People, Vol. I, pp.44, 45.

[33] Prophets, English translation, Vol. II, p.1.

[34] C. F. Kent, A History of the Hebrew People, Vol. I, p.167.

[35] Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament, pp. viii, ix.

[36] Revelation and the Bible, p.61.

[37] J. E. McFadyen, Old Testament Criticism and the Christian Church, p.136.

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