Higher biblical criticism has long been peddled among theologians and laymen alike. Many are affected by its theories. What is "higher" biblical criticism? Why should we be concerned about it? What motivates it? How does it work? Where did it come from? It's time to examine and explode this intellectual charade!
REMEMBER the Groucho Marx television quiz show — You Bet Your Life? On this program couples won money by answering questions. Whenever a couple would give the wrong answer, they were allowed a "consolation question." An example: "Who is buried in Grant's tomb?" The answer was always humorously obvious — Grant is buried in U. S. Grant's tomb — and every couple won the consolation prize. Let's ask what might have been a typical Groucho Marx consolation question: "Who wrote the first five books of the Bible, the Five Books of Moses?" Moses? NOT according to many modern theologians. No, modern biblical scholars emphatically assert that Moses didn't even write ANY PART of the Five Books of Moses! These theologians would fail to win even the consolation prize on the Groucho Marx quiz show!
Higher Biblical Criticism
Since so many biblical critics unequivocally state that Moses did not write the Five Books of Moses, the question naturally arises: Who did? Their answer can be found in almost any 20th-century biblical dictionary, commentary, or reference. It will confuse and amuse you all at once. So let's examine two vitally important sections of Scripture — and discover just who the critics foist off as the supposed authors. But first — a warning. You're going to run into a lot of strange letters — "P," "J2," "E," etc. — in addition to the expected pedantic language. Don't be alarmed — we'll find them to be the myths before we're through! Let's take a sample of higher critical ideas from a commonly accepted source: The Interpreter's Bible. The Creation: "Chapters 1-2 [of Genesis] contain two accounts of the creation of the world by God... The first is basically from 'P,' the second from 'J2,' both of them bear the marks of having been elaborated by writers other than their original authors" (Vol. I, p. 465). The Ten Plagues on Egypt: "Our record is a narrative carefully constructed from the three literary traditions, J, E, P... J's hand is discernible in seven of the plagues... P is present in five accounts ... five items show the hand of E and... it seems very likely that no single tradition or cycle originally counted ten plagues" (Vol. I, p. 838). You're probably not going to believe this — and I don't blame you — but all of those funny letters are really supposed to be the true, original, authenticated authors of the Bible! Now GOD tells us that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible (Deut. 27:3; 31:9; Joshua 8:31-35). But do many of these critics even mention Moses? No! Not so much as a vague hint to even the possibility that Moses might have made a miniscule contribution to his own books! What about God? Must we ignore His simple statements because they are so easy to understand? Is it old-fashioned, unintellectual, or naive to challenge the critics who challenge God?
Enlightened Theology Speaks
Why are letters used to represent the supposed authors of the Bible? Because, according to Modernist reasoning, the many different authors and editors who actually "fabricated" the Bible are presently unknown. So, since names aren't available, letters must be used instead. How do biblical critics describe this fabricating process? Read on. According to them, the Five Books of Moses — also called the Torah ("Law" in Hebrew) and Pentateuch ("Five Scrolls" in Greek) — are merely a crude composite of unknown authors and editors. First, numerous writers composed their own fanciful versions of ancient myths, legends, and traditions. Then, hundreds of years later, various editors collected, arranged, revised, and compiled these earlier authors' manuscripts. These manuscripts were meticulously "pieced together" into "intermediate stage" documents, and finally, at some very late date, the Bible — as we know it today — emerged. An evolution of the Bible. Or so goes the theory. In plain words, the critics are saying that the Bible was not written by whom it claims and not written when it claims! If this were so, let's face it, the Bible would be a complete fake, an utter sham, and a malicious misrepresentation. Did you notice the absolute — even audacious — certainty of those higher biblical critics whose opinions are represented in the sections quoted? They have no doubts — they speak as if they have incontrovertible facts! But do they?
The Public Reaction
After reading what these modern scholars and theologians have to say about the Bible, the average person might well reason: "I had always thought the Five Books of Moses were written by Moses. Wow! Was I simple-minded and naive! Now I can plainly see that many authors and editors wrote these ancient myths. And they all lived hundreds and even thousands of years after Moses — if Moses ever lived at all! The Bible is nothing more than a mish-mash of human legends." A more inquisitive person would go further: "I would sure like to read some of these original biblical manuscripts." So he goes to a library — but he doesn't find any evidence of "original manuscripts." He becomes a bit disturbed. "Surely these manuscripts about which the critics write so much must exist; those modern theologians were so sure of their theories." In desperation, he sets out for Washington, D. C., and the Library of Congress. Again — nothing. Nothing at all! No evidence of the "original documents" of the critics. As a matter of fact, our frustrated friend could go around the world — to every library, every religious institution, every museum — and never find anything. Why? The reason is obvious. These so-called "original manuscripts, documents, accounts, and sources," which we are asked to believe were patched together to form the Bible, do not exist. They never have existed! As a matter of fact, the only place that the concept of biblical documents can be found is in the imaginations of certain self-styled 17th to 20th century scholars.
Who Can Understand?
Scholars hope that the title "higher biblical criticism" will scare you off. They would have you believe that you must know Hebrew, Greek, and Latin fluently (plus have two to five earned degrees after your name) to even comprehend the issues involved. But that's simply not true. Scholars do employ strange words, complicated sentences, and unusual logic. But their boiled-down concepts and their basic reasonings are rather simple-minded. Many people can understand these "scholarly proclamations" — and refute them. You can. It's easy. And you're going to be surprised just how easy it really is. We're all going to have some fun!
Why Was the Bible Attacked?
The Bible represents God, and God is law. "Law" means authority, and authority necessitates obedience. Man, by nature, foams with rebellion (Rom. 8:7). He despises obedience, resents authority, and ridicules law. Man does not want to worship a Supreme God. Man wants to be supreme himself. Yet, it was silly for philosophically vain men to claim to be supreme when the Bible was continuously radiating and fulminating the full power of God Almighty. The Bible was a thorn in their sides — the one obstacle to their supreme rule! "Get rid of it" was the cry! Some way had to be found. For if the majestic authority of the Bible could be shattered, then the "God of the Bible" would be denuded, emasculated, exposed as a fraud, and unmasked as a "myth of superstitious men" to the delight of all! Who would remain? Only man! Man would no longer be subject to the law and authority of God — man would be his own law, his own authority, and his own god! Everything rested upon the destruction of the Bible. How would it be done? The solution was simple: deny everything supernatural, ridicule the inspired revelation of the Bible, attribute the entirety of the Bible to the thoughts and "moral reasonings" of ancient "religious geniuses." Anything, but not a higher power. Not revelations of a Creator God, but rather inventions of human "geniuses." Sure, call the man a genius — and subtly displace God. Destroy the Bible and God is dead; destroy the Bible and man is god.
How Was the Bible Attacked?
The Bible claims to be the revelation of Almighty God (Isa. 45:5, 11-12; 46:9-11). "Unacceptable, absurd, impossible" rant the critics. "It must be a fake, a forgery." Forgery! That's it! That's the key to shake and topple the Bible. If it could be demonstrated that the Bible is not the inspired Word of God, but rather a forgery — the hodge-podge concoction of ancient "mystics" — then the Bible and its God collapses. Forgery. That word is a touchstone among the learned. Scholars not uncommonly resent everything that the word authority stands for. Go back two centuries in time for a moment, and see how criticism and the charge of forgery began. Scholars saw in the Greek and Roman classics the symbolism of authority and tradition. They attacked them in their 18th-century classrooms, opening wide the floodgates of criticism. Thousands of youths, flocking to the German universities for their doctorates, were assigned the task of criticizing classical literature. At the height of the epidemic, scarcely a single ancient work remained unimpugned — most were said to be biased, untrue to fact, or unauthentic. With the quantity of classical raw material strictly limited in the early nineteenth century, a new field of study had to be thought up. A "new" discovery had to be found, the critics agreed, if Germany were to maintain her absolute educational domination of the world. Such a discovery necessarily meant something to attack, for assailing a commonly accepted idea has always created interest. What literature, the critics asked themselves, did people believe to be true, but which had not yet been subject to higher criticism? The answer became obvious. The Bible! So now all the methodology and reasoning, once feverishly applied to classical literature, was directed in a frontal assault on the authenticity and historicity of Scripture. The Bible, proudly announced the critics, was pieced together from tradition in much the same fashion as the ancient Greek and Roman classics had been. The extremists declared it a pious fraud. Did you catch the motivation of these critics? The destruction of authority! And what is the greatest authority? The Bible and its God! Is it any wonder then that a fanatical campaign was launched to incapacitate and paralyze the Bible?
Source and Thrust of Higher Biblical Criticism
Where was the main source of Biblical criticism? Germany! Germans had long believed that they were the "chosen people." Yet here was the Bible proclaiming that the Eternal Creator made the houses of Israel and Judah His "chosen people" — chosen for a purpose they have failed to fulfill. "One cannot remain oblivious of the fact that this system of [biblical] criticism developed most strongly in Germany. It was a particular source of pleasure to the Germans to degrade everything pertaining to Jews and Judaism [and the Bible]. We cannot forget the letter published by Kaiser Wilhelm after Delitz's lecture, 'Babel and Bible,' in which he writes: 'And, by the way, it is not at all bad that it somewhat reduced the prestige of the chosen people'" (The Modern Jew Faces Eternal Problems, Dr. Aron Barth, p. 274). Now, toward which part of the Bible did critics thrust the brunt of their attack? Well, what section of the Bible is the most annoying to men? What part do they resent the most? Simple! Those books proclaiming the great power, the absolute authority, and the eternal law of Almighty God — The Five Books of Moses, Gods' Law (Torah) — Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. In these first five books, God is the ruling Creator of the universe: punishing mankind for his disobedience, choosing Israel as His people, reaffirming His eternal commandments, and ordering all to obey His law. So it's hardly surprising that insolent and contemptuous critics, scorning God's commandments (for example, the fourth), desperately strive to cripple, muzzle, and destroy the Five Books of Moses. What happened? Let's trace the history. One of the first biblical critics was the third-century Neo-Platonist philosopher, Porphyry. He stated that the book of Daniel was not written — as Daniel declares — during the Jewish captivity in Babylon, but rather four centuries later in the second century B.C. Why does this pagan philosopher feel compelled to try to redate the writing of Daniel's prophecies? How else could Porphyry explain the huge number of intricate prophecies — elaborating the successive histories of the Babylonian, Persian, Macedonian, and Roman Empires — all of which were perfectly fulfilled? Could he admit that these prophecies were the pronouncements of the great God, who can and does exert authority over his life? Obviously not! The "rational" mind of man must be almighty! Could Porphyry deny the historical facts? No! His only way out was to blatantly declare. that these prophecies were written after the historical events had occurred. Therefore no "God" would be needed. Proof? "Who needs it!" went the cry. "Get rid of God. Make man supreme! And scholars will flock to your side!" How about Luther, the first Protestant? He believed the Bible, didn't he? "Thus it is to Luther a matter of indifference whether or not Moses wrote the Pentateuch... and he considers that the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Hosea probably owe their present form to later hands" (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed., Vol. III, p. 861). "Human reason" became god in the seventeenth century. But the Bible was ever present. This would not do! So the champions of "human reason" — the philosophers (for example, Hobbes and the Jewish scholar Spinoza) — continued the discrediting attack on the Bible.
Modern higher biblical criticism had its origin in 1753 in the work of a French Catholic physician, Jean Astruc. He argued that in Genesis and Exodus, Moses had used different documents and that of these, the two main ones were distinguished by their use of different divine names: Yahweh and Elohim. Different documents! Different divine names! These were the keys that critics were waiting for. Scholars whetted their swords. Here was their long-awaited opportunity. Their hostility could now be directed in a concerted attack upon the Bible. They smelled victory. The "downfall" of the Bible and its God was at hand. Quickly, the German critics took command. The Bible? No more the Word of God! Now merely ancient literary "documents," recounting the twisted traditions and garbled legends of some "nomadic Hebrew tribes." Scholarly debate — like the clashing of wild animals over a kill — raged for decades. Eichhorn, De Wette, Ewald, Vatke, Graf all added their own theories. Finally, in 1883, Wellhausen published what came to be widely accepted as a "final solution" to the problem. "To the theory of documents there was added at this time, most notably by Wellhausen himself, a reconstruction of the history of Israel's religion. This had its ultimate origin in the philosophy of Hagel... It was held by proponents of this school that an evolutionary pattern was observable in all of human history, and in the history of Israel no less than elsewhere. It was assumed that Israel's religion developed from the most primitive forms to the highest within the Old Testament period.... The religion of the Hebrew ancestors was customarily described as an animism or polydemonism. ... The worth of these 'documents' — centuries removed, as they were, from the events they purport to tell — was, held to be minimal" (John Bright, The Bible and the Ancient Near East, 1961, p. 4). "Philosophy of Hegel," "evolutionary pattern," "primitive forms"! Where is God mentioned? God? Forget Him say the critics. Listen to their comments: Man and man alone developed the "God of the Bible"! The "religion of the Hebrews" evolved! The Hebrew God was created by ignorant savages! Listen to what Theophile James Meek had to say about the personal name of our Creator: "Our contention, then, is that Yahweh was originally a storm-god, first known in Arabia. At some early period, for reasons beyond our ken, he was adopted by Judah as its tribal god, and then as Judah absorbed other tribes into itself by conquest or alliance, the domain of Yahweh was correspondingly extended" (Hebrew Origins, Theophile James Meek, 1960, p. 116). Such are the theories and contentions of modern critics concerning the written word of ancient Israel's God. But what about Moses' authorship of the Pentateuch? How was that specifically challenged?
Arguments Against Moses
Biblical critics have developed an elaborate system of arguments and counter-arguments in their attempt to show that the Five Books of Moses were not written by Moses. This is the primary thrust in their overall war against the divine inspiration of the Bible. Did Moses write what Scripture says he wrote? Here is the main battleground. If the critics could successfully prove their point, the dike would be broken, a mortal wound struck, a precedent set — the Bible would be proven fallible — and all Scripture would lie uninspired, discredited, exposed as a fake, and completely vulnerable to every subsequent critical attack. God commands us to "prove all things" (I Thess. 5:21). He has no special love for blissful ignoramuses, floating around on blind faith, ignoring the critics. We need not be scared of critics. Though their language and reasoning is torturously complicated and obscure, their illogic and misunderstanding is embarrassingly naive and obvious. All right, let's investigate a few example arguments of higher biblical criticism — as documented in the article "Hexateuch" in A Dictionary of the Bible, edited by James Hastings (1910), from which all the following quotes are taken: "A century ago it was a matter of common belief that the Pentateuch [first five books of the Bible] was written by Moses; but this belief never rested on anything but tradition [what about Scripture itself?] and will not bear examination. It will be shown that, in fact, these books are the result of complicated literary processes extending over a long period." The Mosaic authorship is easily disproved at the "very outset" — according to the critics who wrote and edited this article — by three basic categories of objections to the scriptural record. 1. The many unnecessary repetitions. 2. The frequent discrepancies and inconsistencies. 3. The lack of continuity and order in the narrative.
Many Unnecessary Repetitions?
Like what? Which "repetitions" are "unnecessary" according to the critics? "The creation of beasts and birds is related in Gen. 1:21-25 and again in 2:19, of man in 1:27 and 2:7.... The charge given to Jacob to flee to his Uncle Laban is twice related in 27:42-45 and in 28:1-7.... There can be little doubt that the three deceptions on the part of the patriarch's wife narrated in 12:10-20; 20:1-18; 26:1-11 are mere variants of the same story.... The frequent repetitions of similar laws... is obvious to the most casual reader." And that's exactly the point! God uses repetition to gel His most important concepts through the thick skulls and closed minds of "the most casual reader. "Peter writes, "And so I will not hesitate to remind you of this again and again... to keep refreshing your memory... " (II Peter 1:12-13, The New English Bible). Check Genesis 41:32 — God repeats a matter to emphasize that He established it. It's no accident, God does indeed repeat — for emphasis and for our benefit. Fine. Now let's look up these "repetitious" scriptures quoted by the scholars. I think it will amuse you. Because the slur of "unnecessary repetitions" is absurd. There is often no repetition whatsoever, but rather totally different circumstances. For example: The two times Abraham passed Sarah off as his sister were obviously different with respect to time, geography, persons involved, and sequence of events. This pregnant example of biblical criticism becomes astonishingly outrageous since the third such situation involved Isaac and Rebekah, not Abraham and Sarah! In Genesis 27:42-45 Rebekah tells Jacob to flee to Laban, while in 28:1-7, it is Isaac (at the behest of Rebekah) who gives the same charge. The "repetition" between the first and second chapters of Genesis is easily understood by anyone except those who would demand that the Bible be written with the simplicity of a second-grade reader.
Discrepancies and Inconsistencies?
Some examples? "The Creation story beginning with Gen. 2:4b differs from that of 1:1-2:4a in almost every particular. ... the flood according to 7:12, 17; 8:6, 10, 12 lasted 54 days, according to 7:24; 8:3 at least 150.... The youth of Sarah implied in 12:10-20; 20:1-8 is inconsistent with Sarah's age as stated in 17:17...." A detailed explanation and interpretation is hardly necessary. The literal understanding of these "discrepancies" is obvious. Of course the second narrative of Creation differs from the first. Each has its own separate and distinct flavor and purpose — the first describes the earth in general, the second zeros in on man and describes his mind, his attitude, and the crucial changes in both, as vividly told in the third chapter of Genesis. The Flood "discrepancy" would be incredibly simple-minded if presented by a seventh-grader. This "scholarly" attack assumes that the forty days mentioned in Genesis 7:12 is the same forty days of 8:6. Being unable or unwilling to read too much of the Bible at one time, the critic conveniently ignores the chronological context of both verses. To calculate the number of days from the 17th day of the 2nd month of Noah's 600th year (Gen. 7:11) to the 1st day of the 10th month of the same year (Gen. 8:5-6) does not really require advanced calculus. How could Sarah have been attractive at 90? Considering "modern society," where so many women are "over the hill" at 35 and deteriorated at 55, our critic's wonderment is understandable. However, in those "primitive cultures" there was no pollution, smog, over-population, depleted soil, refined and processed foods, hectic urban life, or exercise-saving "conveniences." Furthermore, the life span was much longer in those first 15 to 20 generations after the Flood than it is at present (Isaac lived to 180). Consequently, a woman of 90 might appear and feel as a (healthy) woman of 40 would today. Only a prejudiced mind — with the preconceived notion that the Bible is a composite of garbled fairy tales — useful only for bedtime stories and simple moral lessons — could possibly call these three examples (like all the others) "discrepancies and inconsistencies."
Lack of Continuity in the Narrative?
For instance? "In Gen. 20:1 'Abraham journeyed from thence' should naturally have followed some statement mentioning the place where he was, instead of a chapter dealing with the history of Lot.... Moses ascends [Mount Sinai)... no fewer than three times in Ex. 24 without any descent being mentioned between 24:9, 13, 18." These "objections" are so trivial and the answers so apparent that one wonders whether good time, paper and ink should be expended in refuting them. These critics obviously treat the Bible as a children's story where everything must be spelled out, leaving nothing for the reader to contribute. Such would be terrible literature. Furthermore, God doesn't spoon-feed His potential Sons. Rather, He nurtures and develops our mental acumen by enabling us to participate in the Bible. God expressly designed the Bible to require thoughtful analysis on our part, "precept upon precept; line upon line... here a little and there a little" (Isa. 28:10). Concerning Genesis 20:1, do we need a computer-like memory to recall from Genesis 18 that Abraham was in the same general area as Lot? In Exodus 24, why must God specifically state that Moses came down from the mountain in order to have him go back up again? Such things are self-evident to children — but apparently not to certain theologians, who are more than convinced by the grandiosity of their own rhetorical skills.
Obviously, the last eight verses of Deuteronomy — "So Moses the servant of the Lord died...." — were not written by Moses. (One doesn't have to be a genius to figure that out.) Furthermore, there are some references to locations not yet present in the days of Moses — for example, "Dan" in Genesis 14:14. These and a few other similar questions are easily answered when we recognize that God inspired certain of His prophets to make very minor editorial additions to the Sacred Text. Joshua probably wrote Deuteronomy 34:5-12, and Ezra probably edited it. Perhaps Ezra also added the later geographic references and made other minor comments when he and the "men of the Great Synagogue" prepared the final canonization of the Hebrew Bible after the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon. And God has preserved His Word. Peter wrote: "The word of the Lord endureth for ever" (I Pet. 1:25). Jesus said: "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away" (Matt. 24:35). When all is said and done, critics grow old, die, and are largely forgotten — and the Bible is still the Bible.