Man would like to get rid of the Bible. He's tried. for some reason, however, that ancient Book refuses to roll over and play dead. It keeps on impartially proclaiming, "Here is Truth," in face of a barrage of criticism unparalleled in the history of literature. There are those who will tell you that the Bible has been discredited. But will they tell you who has performed this feat and how it was done? It's time you learned the real truth about Biblical criticism.
FEW MONTHS ago a man wrote to the editor of his Sunday newspaper: "I honestly try to live the right kind of life, but when we read that so much of what we used to think true in the Bible has been discredited, bow do we know what is right? In that one sentence, he brought into focus one of the most serious problems facing modern man. There was a time when a question of right and wrong was settled by an appeal to the Bible. In spite of all the doctrinal disagreements and inter-church bickering, the Bible still had a profound influence on the lives of millions of people who called themselves religious. They may not have agreed on the meaning of the Bible, and certainly many of them were not willing to do what the Bible said, but at least the Bible was recognized as an authority. It was a source to which man could look to see for himself what was right. Yet somehow, we have come to the place today that millions of people believe that "much of what we used to think true in the Bible has been discredited." Is that so? Who discredited the Bible? What proof did he show? Who checked up on his evidence? Do we know that the Bible has been discredited, or is it one of those things that "people say"? "They say the Bible contradicts itself." "They say you can prove anything by the Bible." "They say the Bible has been discredited." But if you asked them d o had discredited the Bible and what proof they had seen, most simply would not know. Their only answer would be: "Well, they say the Bible contradicts itself." But if you ask them who "they" are, the chances are they simply will not know. Some people may have a vague idea that "Biblical scholars" or "the higher critics" have found out things about the Bible which would at least seem to discredit it.
The very word "scholar" tends to intimidate the average layman. When he hears of "the assured results of modern criticism," or that "scholars are agreed," he is expected to bow before superior wisdom. Yet scholars are only men and are subject to human failings just like the rest of us. They can be wrong. For too long now the critics have hidden behind a barrier of complexity which has frightened off the average layman. The Hebrew language, the mysteries of Greek, the complexities of archaeology — all these things seem beyond our comprehension. But really, the scholars and critics of the Bible are not that difficult to understand. When all the window dressing is removed and the foundation laid bare, anyone can understand.
Who Are the Critics?
The most serious assaults ever made on the authority of the Bible have NOT come from atheists, rationalists, or scientists. They have come from the Christian ministry. An atheist haranguing against the Bible from a soapbox would hardly receive a hearing from most Christians, but when a minister solemnly steps into the pulpit and begins to criticize the Bible, people are going to sit up and take notice! This is happening week after week in our Western Christian World. A rector of the Church of England, for example, was quoted as saying that the Old Testament contains passages of "spiritual junk" and "poison" for the people (Daily Express, May 10, 1963). Another, Dr. Leslie Weatherhead, former president of the Methodist Conference, said he would like to go through the Bible with a blue pencil and cut out certain sections. He said that in his opinion, the Old Testament was out of date and completely outmoded and that many of the Psalms were nonsense (Sunday Pictorial, London, August 12, 1962). One vicar even went so far as to call the Ten Commandments the "Terrible Ten" and to say that it is often right to BREAK THEM! With so many clergymen openly challenging the authority of the Bible, is it any wonder that people are wondering what is right? How can they know what is right when clergymen on every side are rejecting the Bible as the standard for human behavior. They certainly cannot look to the clergy. They are so deeply divided on moral issues that they are becoming confused themselves. Abortion, teen-age sex experimentation, trial marriages, divorce, drug addiction, adultery, homosexuality — all these are wide-open controversial subjects among clergymen today.
Why No Agreement?
But why is it that intelligent men are unable to agree on the right or wrong of such vital issues? "Surely," we exclaim, "they must see from the fruits of these things that they are wrong!" No, they don't. When they threw away the standard which defines right and wrong and attempted to become a law to themselves, they lost the only wisdom they ever had. As a desperate world looks to these men for help, all they get are opinions. "There are no absolutes," says one minister. "There are no blacks or whites where morals are concerned — only shades of gray," says another. Meanwhile a hopelessly confused people sink further into moral quicksand. Well did Jeremiah prophesy of these men, "Lo, they have rejected the word of the Lord; and what wisdom is in them?" (Jeremiah 8:9). God has clearly defined what is right and wrong for man. If clergymen would turn to the Bible, and accept its authority on the vital questions pertaining to man's life, all this confusion would disappear. God says: "But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings" (Jeremiah 23:22).
Assailed by Doubts
But the Bible is no longer accepted by many religious leaders as an authoritative standard. Having rejected any Biblical authority, much of the Christian ministry has sunk into a morass of doubt and agnosticism. One of the most eloquent spokesmen of the new "theology of doubt" is Dr. John A. T. Robinson, Bishop of Woolwich, and author of Honest to God. His book has been described as saying "that the concept of a personal God as held in popular Christianity is outmoded — that atheists and agnostics are right to reject it." Bishop Robinson was asked in an interview by Jack Lucas of the Daily Herald whether he believed literally in a virgin birth. He answered frankly: "I am prepared to be agnostic. I do not believe it matters very much. I think the evidence is pretty weak on the whole." Bishop Robinson, of course, does not intend to speak dogmatically in his book, nor does he really intend to prove anything. In his own words, he is merely "thinking out loud." He summed up the general confusion in theological circles by admitting to Mr. Lucas: "I do not fully understand myself all that I am trying to say" (Daily Herald, March 19, 1963). These questions that have arisen in the mind of Bishop Robinson are by no means unique in theological circles. Reviewing the book, Honest to God, Canon Theodore Wedel said:
The Bishop is not committing a crime in revealing to a wider public what has been going on for a generation and longer in the world of advanced theological learning.... Honest to God is simply a bold, and as some theologians may say, premature opening of a Pandora's box of theological novelties under debate among doctors of the schools BEHIND THE SCENES (The Episcopalian, August, 1963, emphasis mine).
Very few theologians today will accept the Bible as an end to all dispute. In a major American city a group of theologians appeared on television to answer questions about religion for people who telephoned in to the studio. One woman who called, after trying in vain to point out something she thought was very clear in the New Testament, became exasperated and said, "Can't you see it? It's in plain English." "Well, no," was the theologian's reply, "it's in corrupt Greek." His answer illustrates the attitude of the modern schools of Biblical criticism. The Bible is not accepted as the infallible Word of God, authoritative in all matters of religion. It is looked upon as the work of men, subject to human error and therefore quite fallible. A survey commissioned by Redbook Magazine in 1961 shows how far this has gone. They assigned Louis Harris and Associates, a public opinion research firm, to interview student ministers in eight leading theological schools. The results were shocking. It was found that only 44 percent of these future ministers believed in the virgin birth of Christ, only 29 percent believed there is a real heaven and hell, and only 46 percent believed that Jesus ascended physically whole into heaven after His crucifixion! Of all the figures listed in the article, the most striking concerned the second coming of Christ: Only one percent of these future ministers are convinced that there will be a second coming of Christ, even though Christ specifically said that He would come again to this earth (Acts 1:11, John 14:3).
Confusion Without Authority
A woman wrote to a minister who writes a column for The Birmingham Mail and asked: "If you reject the authority of Scripture, what authority can you speak with or appeal to? Or don't you think there is any need for authority today?" His answer? "Your own mind is the authority!" Each of us must face any decisions that come our way and "hear again the inner voice, something in US that responds, that whispers 'This is true.' There is your ultimate authority!" But what if the "inner voice" is wrong? What if it has been the victim of miseducation, misinformation, or outright falsehood? There are millions of people in the world today telling themselves, "This is true," while, in fact, disagreeing with countless other people who are telling themselves, "This is false." Who is right? Is anybody right? It is this sort of confusion that has led to a sort of "Christian agnosticism" in our day, Mankind needs a guide, an authority he can turn to with assurance. The Bible has that authority. Why have ministers rejected it?
Trust No Man
When you read a statement about the Bible by a critic, can you rest assured that the man has always approached the Bible with an open, unprejudiced mind — that his research has always been careful, thorough, well documented? Unfortunately, you cannot. Far too many of the objections raised against the Bible by critics are firmly grounded in sheer ignorance! Scholars do not always understand everything they write about. Even "learned men" are occasionally guilty of carelessness, false assumption, or even ignorance. Take, for example, Thomas Paine, who launched one of the most widely read attacks ever made on the Bible with his Age of Reason in 1794. Although Paine ripped apart the contemporary philosophy of the Bible held by some churchmen, he left the Bible itself virtually untouched. He wrote:
From whence then could arise the solitary and strange conceit that the Almighty, who had millions of worlds equally dependent on His protection, should quit the care of all the rest and come to die in our world, because they say one man and one woman had eaten an apple? (Thomas Paine, Age of Reason, pp. 26, 27, emphasis mine.)
Notice that his objection is not to the Bible itself, but to what "they say" about the Bible. "They," in this case, were the "Christian" teachers whose doctrines he had sampled. The chances are he did not look any more deeply into their teachings than he did into the Bible. He admitted that when he wrote the first part of his book, he did not even possess a Bible! (W. Neil, Cambridge History of the Bible, p. 250.) We might borrow a phrase from Paine and ask: "From whence then could arise the solitary and strange conceit" that leads a man to argue so confidently from a position of ignorance? It seems strange to hear a man admit that he doesn't know what he's talking about, but we should at least be refreshed by his honesty. A great deal of criticism of the Bible is launched from a similar lack of knowledge but without the candor to admit it.
Check the Source
It is easy to see how Paine made his mistake. After all, if the clergy did not speak for the Bible, who did? It is always risky, however, to take another man's word for something. Thomas Paine simply failed to check up to see if the Bible really did say what he had heard that it said. A good many errors result from just such a failure. For example, Robert Graves and Raphael Patai published a book called Hebrew Myths, the Book of Genesis in which they attempt to show the alleged mythological character of much of the Old Testament. In making a point on page 13, the writers state: "A Ugaritic deity worshipped as Baal-Zebuh or Zebul, at Ekron was insulted by King Ahaziah (II Kings 1:2 ff)." If the reader simply accepts this without checking, he is going to be completely misled. If he checks, he will find the account in the Bible is clear and easy to understand. King Ahaziah sent to inquire of the god of Ekron whether he would recover of his disease. Elijah the prophet intercepted the messengers and sent them back to tell Ahaziah he would die. There is no indication that the messengers ever got to Baal-Zebub and certainly no insult to Baal-Zebub is mentioned in the text. The book gives no indication and the reader cannot tell whether this represents an interpretation of the authors or a slip on their part. This is a particularly interesting example, because the two authors have an impressive record of scholarship in their fields and list no fewer than seventy literary works between them! As one reads through the introduction, he cannot help being impressed by the obvious scholarship, learning and confidence exhibited, This impression, however, gets damaged a bit when we read on page 15 a reference to the "feast of atonement." Anyone who is going to write with authority about the Old Testament ought to know that the Day of Atonement is a fast day, not a feast! One thing is clear, however — we can't swallow everything we see in print! It is often necessary to go right to the source to see if it really does say what it is purported to say.
What Kind of God?
If Thomas Paine had done this, he could have saved himself a great deal of misunderstanding. Where did he get his concept of God? He wrote:
When we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon than the Word of God (Thomas Paine, Age of Reason, p. 7).
Of course, the careful student of the Bible already knows that the cruelty, barbarism, and vindictiveness which we do find in the Old Testament are not the will of God! They are the works of man contrary to the laws of God! Nevertheless, far too many people who have read Paine's work still share his false impression of the God of the Old Testament. They look upon God as a harsh hanging judge who is all too eager to descend upon man with great wrath every time he deviates from an "impossible law." As a new PLAIN TRUTH reader from Northampton, England, wrote:
I accept the ethical teaching of Jesus, but I cannot in any way reconcile the God Jehovah of the Jews as having anything in common with such a teaching. There is hardly a page in the Hebrew Scriptures which does not deal with murder, rape, pillage, etc.... No loving or merciful God or being could have allowed or attributed to the acts as reported in the Hebrew Scriptures. I can't read it. It is too bloody. There is too much fear. Didn't Paul write perfect love casteth out all fear? (Emphasis mine.)
Of course, those who have more than a nodding acquaintance with the God of the Old Testament have encountered an entirely different God. They have found in the pages of the Bible the God who takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. They have encountered the God who cried out, "Why will you die, O house of Israel?" These students of the Bible have encountered prophets whose main message was a plea to Israel not to destroy themselves. For some reason, the reader was oblivious to this. Either he had not read the Old Testament carefully, or, like Thomas Paine, he had allowed his mind to be prejudiced against it before he ever started. But what about you? To what extent have you allowed your opinions of the Bible to be formed by what others have told you? Have you checked the Bible to see what it really does say about God? It is a shame, but all too many of the criticisms leveled at the Bible have little or nothing to do with the real message of the Bible. They deal purely with the false concepts and philosophies of man about the Bible.
Science Versus the Bible
Thomas Paine was certainly not the only one to make the mistake of assuming that the teaching of the church was the teaching of the Bible. When the science of geology began to discover evidence in the rocks that the earth was more than six thousand years old, many jumped to the conclusion that the book of Genesis had been discredited. However, as one writer put it, their concept of Creation was not so much that of the Bible as that of Milton's Paradise Lost. In their minds, they had somehow developed a mental image of the creation of man within a week of the creation of the earth out of nothing and the sudden shaping of the sun, moon, and stars. When this idea clashed head-on with evidence that the earth may be millions of years old, the faith of some was shaken. It was unfortunate, because their faith in the Bible need not have been shaken at all. The Bible simply does not say that the earth is only six thousand years old! It is not difficult to see how a superficial reading of Genesis might reinforce such an idea. But a careful study of the first chapter makes it clear that Genesis reveals nothing about the actual age of the earth. The account starts simply in the first verse by saying: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." The writer of Genesis does not tell us when "the beginning" was. The very language of it certainly implies antiquity, but it is indefinite, The writer goes on to say: "And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light." It is obvious from the wording of these verses that there is some time lapse between verse 1 when God created the heaven and the earth, and verse 3, where He said, "Let there be light." How long did the earth lie without form and void? How long was darkness upon the face of the deep? How long did the Spirit of God move upon the face of the waters before God finally took action, saying, "Let there be light"? As far as the book of Genesis is concerned, the earth could just as easily be twice as old as the wildest estimates of geologists.
The Full Story
It is only after a careful investigation of the Bible that the full story of what is described at the beginning of Genesis comes to light. An examination of the original Hebrew of Genesis 1:2 reveals that the word rendered "was" by the translators of the Authorized Version should more correctly be translated "became." Furthermore, the original Hebrew words for "without form, and void," were tohu and bohu. The words simply mean "chaotic, in confusion, waste, empty." Then, we read in Isaiah 45:18 that when God created the heavens and the earth He did NOT create them TOHU — in confusion. God is not the author of confusion. When He created the heavens and the earth in the first place, He created them perfect and "to be inhabited" (Isaiah 45:18). It was after this creation that the earth became chaotic and in confusion as a result of Satan's rebellion. We're not told in Genesis how this happened or how long it lasted. For the full story of the earth before Adam, request our articles, "Did God Create a Devil?" and "Dinosaurs Before Adam?"
A Total Misconception
It is a fact that many of the criticisms leveled at the Bible have been made because the critic was misinformed, failed to check the source, misunderstood what the Bible said, or simply did not read it carefully enough. Yet many have read their works and supposed that the Bible couldn't be trusted. Since the critics have taken it upon themselves to scrutinize the Bible, surely it is only fair that we scrutinize the critics. What are they trying to prove and why? Do they back up their conclusions with facts, with proof, or only with opinions? You may be in for a surprise!