A SHORT HISTORY OF MODERNISM
There are many scholars today who claim to be orthodox Christians and yet insist that the New Testament text ought not to be studied from the believing point of view but from a neutral point of view. (1) The New Testament text, they maintain, ought to be treated just as the texts of other ancient books are treated. And in this they are followers of Westcott and Hort (1881), who still remain the best known advocates of this neutral principle.
In this present chapter we will endeavor to point out the error of this neutral, naturalistic New Testament textual criticism and to show how it has led to skepticism and modernism.
1. The Skeptical Tendency Of Naturalistic New Testament Textual Criticism
The following short history of New Testament textual criticism will show how the use of the naturalistic method leads inevitably to skepticism regarding the New Testament text.
(a) The Reformation Period—The Theological Approach to the New Testament Text
New Testament textual criticism cannot properly be said to have begun until the New Testament was first placed in print in 1516, one year before the commencement of the Protestant Reformation. Hence the first New Testament textual critics were editors such as Erasmus (1466-1536), printers such as Stephanus (1503-1559), and Reformers such as Calvin (1509-1564) and Beza (1519-1605). A study of Calvin's commentaries and the notes of Erasmus and Beza indicates that these 16th-century scholars had not worked out any clearly defined system of New Testament textual criticism. In this department of biblical study they were unmethodical, and some of their remarks concerning the New Testament canon and text reflect the humanistic culture in which they had been reared. But in their actual editing and printing of the New Testament they were guided by the common faith in the Received Text. For in their appeal to the New Testament against the errors of the papacy and the Roman Catholic doctrinal system these Reformers were not introducing a novelty but were falling back on a principle which long before the Reformation had been acknowledged by everyone. For centuries it had been commonly believed that the currently received New Testament text, primarily the Greek text and secondarily the Latin text, was the True New Testament Text which had been preserved by God's special providence. It was out of this common faith, therefore, that the printed Textus Receptus was born through the editorial labors of Erasmus and his successors under the guiding hand of God. Hence during the Reformation Period the approach to the New Testament text was theological and governed by the common faith in holy Scripture, and for this reason even in those early days the textual criticism of the New Testament was different from the textual criticism of other ancient books.
(b) The Age of Rationalism - The Naturalistic Approach to the New Testament Text
After the commencement of the 17th century rationalists began to arise who laid aside the theological approach to the New Testament text and took up in its stead the naturalistic approach which makes no distinction between the text of the New Testament and that of a purely human book. Denying the common faith, they handled the New Testament text in a wholly secular way. One of the most famous of these rationalists was Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), celebrated Dutch statesman and theologian. In his Annotations (pub. 1641-50) Grotius made a number of conjectural emendations, in the New Testament text. (2) a procedure which was then customary in the editing of ancient classical authors. And in 1658 Stephen Courcelles, professor at the Arminian College in Amsterdam, continued this trend by publishing an edition of the New Testament containing some of the conjectures of Grotius and also some of his own mixed indiscriminately with variant readings drawn from the New Testament manuscripts. (3) This action on Courcelles' part created alarm among orthodox Christians and awakened new interest in the problem of the New Testament text.
In 1675 John Fell, Dean of Christ Church and later Bishop of Oxford, suggested a new way of attacking this problem. In places in which the New Testament manuscripts differed from each other we should think of the scribes that copied the manuscripts rather than of the original apostolic authors. By noticing all the various ways in which these scribes made mistakes, we would be able to detect false readings and thus finally arrive at the true reading by a process of elimination. (4) This suggestion was taken seriously by Gerhard von Maestricht, an official of the city of Bremen, who in 1711 published 43 rules for New Testament textual criticism most of which dealt with the mistakes scribes were likely to make. (5) And this shift of attention from the inspired authors of the New Testament to the uninspired scribes that copied it was another step toward a completely naturalistic New Testament textual criticism.
In 1720 Richard Bentley (1662-1742), famous Cambridge scholar, proposed a thoroughly naturalistic method of New Testament textual criticism. What he advocated was the rejection of the printed Greek New Testament text altogether and of the readings of the majority of the manuscripts and the construction of a new text by comparing the oldest Greek New Testament manuscripts with the oldest manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate. He believed that these ancient Greek and Latin manuscripts would agree very closely and that this close agreement would make it possible to recover the New Testament text in the form in which it existed at the time of the Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.). (6) He also believed that this method of textual criticism would improve the "barbarous" style of the existing New Testament text and "make it more worthy of a revelation." (7)
J. A. Bengel (1687-1752) was an orthodox German Lutheran except in the realm of New Testament textual criticism. Here like Bentley he inclined toward rationalism. He claimed to believe in the providential preservation of the Scriptures, but when he began to deal with the New Testament text he laid this doctrine on the shelf as an unworkable principle. "Concerning the care of the early Church for the purity of the manuscripts and concerning the fruits of this care, whatever is clearly taught must be eagerly and piously maintained. But it is certainly difficult to explain through what churches and ages this care extended, and whatever it was it did not keep from coming into existence those variant readings which circulate today and which are more easily removed when their origin is known." (8)
In his own textual criticism Bengel relied on Bentley's method of comparing various classes of manuscripts with each other. (9) Also he laid great stress on a rule which he himself had formulated: "The hard reading is to be preferred to the easy reading." (10) When there is a choice, Bengel argued, between a reading which is hard to understand and a reading which is easy to understand, the hard reading must be the genuine one, because the orthodox scribes always changed the hard readings to make them easy. Hence, according to Bengel, the orthodox Christians had corrupted their own New Testament text. This hypothesis amounted to a denial of the doctrine that God by His special providence had preserved the True Text down through the ages in the usage of believers. It is no wonder therefore that an outcry was raised against Bengel by conservative Christians in Germany.
(c) The Age of Enlightenment—The Skeptical Approach to the New Testament Text
The last half of the 18th century in Germany was the age of "enlightenment" in which rationalism was positively encouraged by Frederick II, the "philosopher king," who reigned over Prussia 46 years (1740-86). Under these conditions the skepticism inherent in the naturalistic method of New Testament textual criticism was clearly brought out.
Johann Semler (1725-91), professor at Halle, was the first textual critic to suggest that the New Testament manuscripts had been edited, not merely copied, by the ancient scribes. (11) He was bold also in some of his conjectures concerning the New Testament text. For example, he believed that chapter 9 of 2 Corinthians was a fragment inserted by the scribes in its present location and that chapter 16 of Romans was originally a letter to the Corinthians that got attached to Romans by mistake. (12) And in other respects also Semler revealed himself as one of the first modernists. He believed that both the Old and the New Testament canons had grown by degrees and that therefore the Scriptures were not inspired in the traditional sense. According to Semler, the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles contained Jewish conceptions of merely "local" and "temporal" value which it was the task of scientific exegesis to point out. (13)
J. J. Griesbach (1745-1812), pupil of Semler and professor at Jena, early declared himself a skeptic regarding the New Testament text. In 1771 he wrote, "The New Testament abounds in more glosses, additions, and interpolations purposely introduced than any other book." (14) And during his long career there is no indication that he ever changed this view. He was noted for his critical editions of the New Testament and for the comprehensive way in which he worked out a classification of the New Testament manuscripts into three "rescensions" or ancestral groups. (15) He also developed the thought implicit in Bengel's rule, "The hard reading is to be preferred to the easy reading." Like Bengel he interpreted this rule to mean that the orthodox Christians had corrupted their own New Testament text. (16) According to Griesbach, whenever the New Testament manuscripts varied from each other, the orthodox readings were to be ruled out at once as spurious. "The most suspicious reading of all," Griesbach wrote, "is the one that yields a sense favorable to the nourishment of piety (especially monastic piety)." And to this he added another directive: "When there are many variant readings in one place, that reading which more than the others manifestly favors the dogmas of the orthodox is deservedly regarded as suspicious."
Griesbach's skepticism was shared by J. L. Hug (1765-1846), who in 1808 advanced the theory that in the 2nd century the New Testament text had become deeply degenerate and corrupt and that all the extant New Testament texts were merely editorial revisions of this corrupted text. (17) And Carl Lachmann (1793-1851) continued in this same skeptical vein. He believed that from the extant manuscripts it was not possible to construct a text which would reach any farther back than the 4th century. To bridge the gap between this reconstructed 4th-century text and the original text Lachmann proposed to resort to conjectural emendation. In 1831 he published an edition of the Greek New Testament which reflected his views. (18)
(d) Westcott and Hort—The Light That Failed
In the 1860's manuscripts Aleph and B were made available to scholars through the labors of Tregelles and Tischendorf, and in 1881 Westcott and Hort (19) published their celebrated Introduction in which they endeavored to settle the New Testament text on the basis of this new information. They propounded the theory that the original New Testament text has survived in almost perfect condition in these two manuscripts, especially in B. This theory attained almost immediately a tremendous popularity, being accepted everywhere both by liberals and conservatives. Liberals liked it because it represented the latest thing in the science of New Testament textual criticism. Conservatives liked it because it seemed to grant them that security for which they were seeking. But since this security had no foundation in faith, it has not proved lasting. For in the working out of their theory Westcott and Hort followed an essentially naturalistic method. Indeed, they prided themselves on treating the text of the New Testament as they would that of any other book, making little or nothing of inspiration and providence. "For ourselves," Hort wrote, "we dare not introduce considerations which could not reasonably be applied to other ancient texts, supposing them to have documentary attestation of equal amount, variety, and antiquity." (20)
Soon Westcott and Hort's theory began to lose its hold in the liberal and radical camp. In 1899 Burkitt (21) revived Hug's theory that all extant texts are editorial revisions of a lost primitive text, a position later adopted by Streeter (22) and other noted textual critics. The skepticism of Griesbach and other early critics was also revived, and with a vengeance. As early as 1908 Rendel Harris declared that the New Testament text had not at all been settled but was "more than ever, and perhaps finally, unsettled." (23) Two years later Conybeare gave it as his opinion that "the ultimate (New Testament) text, if there ever was one that deserves to be so called, is for ever irrecoverable." (24) And in 1941 Kirsopp Lake after a lifetime spent in the study of the New Testament text, delivered the following judgment: "In spite of the claims of Westcott and Hort and of von Soden, we do not know the original form of the Gospels, and it is quite likely that we never shall." (25)
Westcott and Hort professed to "venerate" the name of Griesbach "above that of every other textual critic of the New Testament." (26) Like Griesbach they believed that the orthodox Christian scribes had altered the New Testament manuscripts in the interests of orthodoxy. Hence like Griesbach they ruled out in advance any possibility of the providential preservation of the New Testament text through the usage of believers. But at the same time they were very zealous to deny that heretics had made any intentional changes in the New Testament text. "It will not be out of place," they wrote, "to add here a distinct expression of our belief that even among the numerous unquestionably spurious readings of the New Testament there are no signs of deliberate falsification of the text for dogmatic purposes." (27) The effect of this one-sided theory was to condemn the text found in the majority of the New Testament manuscripts and exonerate that of B and Aleph. This evident partiality, however, did not appeal to Rendel Harris (1926), who condemned all the manuscripts, including B and Aleph. All of them, he asserted, were "actually reeking" with "dogmatic falsifications." (28)
As the 20th century progressed, other distinguished scholars grew more and more skeptical. In 1937, for example, F. G. Kenyon revived Griesbach's contention that the text of the New Testament had not been as accurately preserved as the texts of other ancient books. "The textual history of the New Testament," Kenyon wrote, "differs materially from that of other ancient books. The works of classical literature were produced in peaceful conditions. They were copied by professional scribes.... They were not exposed to deliberate destruction, at any rate, until, after many centuries, the Christian Church made war on pagan literature. The textual tradition which has come down to us is probably that of the great libraries, where good copies were preserved under the eyes of men of letters.... In all these respects the fortunes of the Christian Scriptures were different. In the earliest days the Christians were a poor community, who would seldom have been able to command the services of professional scribes. There were no recognized centres for the promulgation of authorized copies of the Scriptures.... Then there was always the danger of destruction.... So long as Christianity was at best tolerated and at worst persecuted, the transcription and circulation of the Scriptures were exposed to difficulties from which the pagan literature was free." (29)
(e) New Testament Textual Criticism Since World War II
Since World War II there has been little change of attitude on the part of naturalistic New Testament textual critics. As far as the recovery of the original New Testament text is concerned, pessimism is the order of the day. As G. Zuntz (1953) remarks, "the optimism of the earlier editors has given way to that scepticism which inclines towards regarding 'the original text' as an unattainable mirage." (30) H. Greeven (1960) also has acknowledged the uncertainty of the naturalistic method of New Testament textual criticism. "In general," he says, "the whole thing is limited to probability judgments; the original text of the New Testament, according to its nature, must be and remain a hypothesis.'' (31) And R. M. Grant (1963) expresses himself still more despairingly. "The primary goal of New Testament textual study," he tells us, "remains the recovery of what the New Testament writers wrote. We have already suggested that to achieve this goal is well nigh impossible." (32) Nor is K. W. Clark (1966) more hopeful. "Great progress has been achieved," he says, "in recovering an early form of text, but it may be doubted that there is evidence of one original text to be recovered." (33) And according to K. Aland (1970), the early New Testament text is "strongly" characterized by variations. (34)
2. Naturalistic Textual Criticism And Modernism
Does naturalistic textual criticism breed modernism? Let us review briefly the history of modernistic Bible study and draw our own conclusions.
(a) The Beginning of Modernism—The Denial of the Biblical Miracles
Modernism may fittingly be said to have begun with the deists, a group of "free-thinkers" who were active during the early part of the 18th century in England, where they founded the Masonic Lodge. They taught that all religions are equally true since all of them, including Christianity, are merely republications of the original religion of nature. Reason, the deists insisted, and not the Bible is the supreme authority, since it is to human reason that the original religion of nature is most clearly revealed. And with this naturalistic outlook it is not surprising that some of the deists denied the reality of the miracles of the Bible. One of those that did so was Thomas Woolston (1669-1731), who ridiculed Christ's miracles and even the biblical account of Christ's resurrection. For this he was convicted of blasphemy and fined one hundred pounds. Being unable to pay, he spent the last four years of his life in prison. (35)
One hundred years later the German rationalists found a less offensive way of denying the miracles of Christ. These miracles, they asserted, were actual events which took place according to the laws of nature. The disciples, however, thought that these remarkable occurrences were miracles because they were ignorant of these natural laws. H. E. G. Paulus (1761-1851), theological professor at Heidelberg, was especially active in devising a naturalistic explanation for each one of the miracles of Christ. Jesus' walking on the water, Paulus explained, was an illusion of the disciples. Actually Jesus was walking on the shore and in the mist was taken for a ghost. In the feeding of the five thousand Jesus and His disciples simply set a good example of sharing which was followed by others, and soon there was food enough for everybody. According to Paulus, Christ's resurrection took place because He did not really die upon the cross but merely swooned. The coolness of the tomb revived Him, and when an earthquake had rolled away the stone at the door of the tomb, He stripped off His grave clothes and put on a gardener's garment which He had managed to procure. (36)
These rationalistic explanations of the miracle-narratives in the Gospels were vigorously attacked by David Strauss (1808-74), who published his famous Life of Jesus in 1835. Strauss maintained that in these narratives the miracles are the main thing, the thing for which all the rest exists. Hence the rationalists were absurd in their contention that these narratives had grown up out of utterly trivial events on which a supernaturalistic interpretation had been wrongly placed. On the contrary, Strauss argued, all attempts to find a kernel of historical truth in these narratives must be given up. The miracle-narratives, he insisted, were simply myths. They were popular expressions of certain religious ideas which had been awakened in the minds of early Christians by the impact of Jesus' life. (37)
(b) The Rejection of John's Gospel—The Tuebingen School
After the publication of Strauss' Life of Jesus the Gospel of John rapidly lost status in the opinion of naturalistic critics. Soon it was regarded as of little historical value, as a mere collection of unauthentic discourses put in the mouth of Jesus for theological purposes. The leader in this devaluation of the Gospel of John was F. C. Baur (1792-1860), professor at Tuebingen and founder of the "Tuebingen School" of New Testament criticism. According to the Tuebingen School, Matthew and Revelation represented a primitive Jewish gospel; Luke and the four principal Epistles of Paul (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Galatians) represented a Pauline gospel, and the rest of the New Testament books, especially the Gospel of John, represented a compromise between these two conflicting tendencies in the early Church. And in order to give time for these doctrinal developments Baur maintained that the Gospel of John had not been written until 170 A.D. (38)
Baur's late date for the writing of the Gospel of John was soon found to be contrary to the evidence. The study of Church history revealed no such doctrinal conflict as Baur's theory required. Also the discovery of Tatian's Gospel Harmony in 1888 and of certain papyrus manuscripts in the 1930's and 1950's all indicated that the Gospel of John must have been written before 100 A.D. Naturalistic critics have long since conceded this, but in spite of this admission they have persisted still in denying that John's Gospel gives us a true picture of the historical Jesus and have supported this denial by various hypotheses.
Because of their zeal for episcopal government and the doctrine of apostolic succession many liberal scholars of the Church of England were reluctant to surrender completely the apostolic authorship of John's Gospel. J. A. Robinson (1902) dean of Westminster, was one of this sort. According to Robinson, the Apostle John wrote his Gospel when he was a very old man, so old that he could no longer distinguish fact from fiction. John's memory had so failed him, Robinson argued, that he confused the authentic words and deeds of Jesus with his own reveries and visions. (39) But could the Christ of John's Gospel have been invented by a doting old man? Is it not easier to believe John's own account of the matter, namely, that the Holy Spirit enabled him to remember Christ's words and to reproduce them accurately (John 14:26)?
The most common hypothesis, however, among naturalistic critics is that the Gospel of John was written not by the Apostle John but by another John called the Elder John, who lived at Ephesus at the end of the first century A. D. and who also wrote the Epistles of John. This would make the Gospel of John a forgery, since it claims to have been written by the disciple whom Jesus loved (John 21:24), that intimate follower who beheld Christ's glory (John 1:14), who leaned on His bosom (John 13:23), and who viewed with wondering eye the blood and water flowing down from His riven side (John 19:35). B. H. Streeter (1924) endeavored to soften the harshness of this consequence by speaking of the Elder John as a mystic, a prophet and a genius, (40) but these efforts at palliation are in vain. The fact still remains that in the verses cited and also in others, such as John 14:26, John's Gospel claims to have been written by a member of the apostolic band and that this would be a false claim if this Gospel had been written by the Elder John rather than the Apostle John. Is it possible that this book of the Bible, which more than any other lays the emphasis on truth, is a forgery? Is such brazen hypocrisy to be looked for in the Gospel of John? Does this paradox which the naturalistic critics would thrust upon us make sense?
Moreover, the evidence even for the existence of an Elder John distinct from the Apostle John is very slender, consisting only of a single reference in the Church History of Eusebius (323). In the third book of this History Eusebius quotes a statement of an older writer, namely, Papias (d. 160), bishop of Hierapolis. "If anyone ever came," Papias relates, "who had followed the elders, I inquired into the words of the elders, what Andrew or Peter or Philip or Thomas or James or John or Matthew, or any other of the Lord's disciples, had said, and what Aristion and the elder John, the Lord's disciples, were saying." (41)
Eusebius claimed that here Papias was mentioning two different Johns, placing the first John with the Apostles and assigning the second John a place outside the apostolic band by coupling his name with that of Aristion. But in interpreting Papias in this way Eusebius had an axe to grind. He disliked Revelation and was loath to admit that this last book of the Bible had been written by the Apostle John. His discovery of two Johns in this statement of Papias enabled him to suggest that Revelation had been written by Elder John and hence was not truly apostolic. Actually, however, there seems to be no good reason for finding more than one John in this excerpt from Papias. Because the Apostle John had outlived all the other Apostles Papias mentioned him twice, first among the Apostles as one that had spoken and second among the next generation as one that was still speaking at the time he was making his inquiries.
Critics used to believe that the Gospel of John had been written to present Christianity to the Greeks, but since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 efforts have been made to connect John's Gospel with the Jewish Sectarians at Qumran, where the scrolls were found. According to R. M. Grant (1963), this Gospel was written about 70 A.D. by a Jerusalem disciple of Jesus for the purpose of presenting Christianity to Jews of this sort. (42) But there is no evidence of any kind that this Jerusalem disciple ever lived. How then could this mighty genius have disappeared so completely from the pages of history? Why would the author of so renowned a Gospel have been forgotten so utterly by the Christian Church?
Is it not better to believe that the beloved disciple who wrote the Gospel of John was the Apostle John, the son of Zebedee? Is not this what the Gospel narrative implies? Is not this the unanimous testimony of the early ecclesiastical writers? What if the Gospel of John differs from the other three Gospels not in presenting a different Jesus but only in presenting a different facet of the infinitely complex character of the Son of God?
(c) The Synoptic Problem—The Two-Document Theory
Since the early 19th century it has been customary to call the first three Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) by a common name, Synoptic Gospels, in order to distinguish them from the Gospel of John. This name seems to have been suggested by Griesbach's first edition of the Greek New Testament in which these three Gospels were printed as a synopsis in parallel columns. When these Gospels are arranged in this way, the question of their mutual relationship immediately presents itself. How are we to explain the large measure of agreement which exists between these three Gospels not only in content and wording but even in the order in which the subject matter is arranged. The problem of finding an answer to this question is called the "Synoptic problem."
There are three solutions of the Synoptic problem which have found acceptance with scholars. In the first place, there have been those who have believed that Matthew was written first and that Mark and Luke were copied, at least in part, from Matthew. This hypothesis was favored by Griesbach (1783), Hug (1808), and other early 19th century scholars. (43) It is also the official Roman Catholic position, having been decreed by the Pontifical Biblical Commission in 1912. (44)
A second hypothesis, once popular but now abandoned, was that the Synoptic Gospels were written independently of one another but were based on a common oral tradition derived from the Apostles. This view was advocated in Germany by Gieseler (1818) (45) and widely held in England in the mid-19th century, where it was zealously maintained by Alford (1849), (46) Westcott (1860), (47) and other well known scholars.
There is a third hypothesis, however, which for many years has been regarded by most scholars as the correct solution of the Synoptic problem. This is the "two-document" theory which was first promulgated in Germany by C. H. Weisse (1838). (48) According to this hypothesis, the authors of Matthew and Luke made common use of two documents. The first of these was the Gospel of Mark and the second a document usually referred to as Q which contained the sayings of Jesus. The common use which the authors of Matthew and Luke made of Mark accounts for the agreement of these two Gospels with each other in passages in which they both agree with Mark, and the common use which these same authors made of Q accounts for the agreement of their Gospels with each other in passages which are not found in Mark. B. H. Streeter's The Four Gospels (1924) is probably still the best presentation of the two-document theory in English. Indeed Kirsopp Lake (1937) (49) regarded it as the best treatment of the subject in any language. In this volume Streeter not only defended the two-document hypothesis but went on to expand it into a theory involving several other documentary sources.
The tendency of the two-document theory is obviously to deny the apostolic authorship of the Gospels. For it is impossible to believe that the Apostle Matthew would have relied on two documents written by others for his information concerning the life of Jesus and not on his own memory of his personal experience with his Lord. And it is almost equally difficult to suppose that Luke, the disciple and companion of the Apostle Paul, actually preferred to base his Gospel on information gathered up and written down by another rather than on that which he himself had obtained by personal contact with those who had walked and talked with Jesus. And, finally, the two-document theory is unfavorable also to the traditional view that the Gospel of Mark was written by a personal disciple of Peter. For if this Gospel had the authority of Peter behind it, it is hard to see how the authors of the other two Synoptic Gospels could have felt at liberty to revise it as drastically as they did, according to the two-document theory.
But the two-document theory is not invulnerable. B. C. Butler (1951) proved this in his treatise on The Originality of St. Matthew. (50) In this volume Butler attacked with admirable clarity certain of the weak spots in Streeter's exposition of the two-document hypothesis. For example, Streeter was driven by the exigencies of his theory to believe that Mark and Q sometimes "overlapped," that is, contained divergent accounts of the same incident or saying. In these instances of "overlapping," Streeter believed, Luke followed Q. but Matthew "conflated" Mark and Q. that is, pieced them together in a very intricate and laborious manner. And in the same way Matthew "conflated" Mark with another source M whenever these two documents "overlapped." Streeter never gave any motive for this curious action on Matthew's part, and in regard to it Butler rightly remarks, "Such a mode of procedure on St. Matthew's part is not indeed impossible. But it is so improbable, that one may be forgiven for asking whether there is no other more satisfactory explanation of the data.'' (51) And in regard to another passage Butler observes that Streeter's hypothesis that Matthew "conflated" Mark and Q attributes to the Evangelist "a virtuosity as superhuman as it would be futile." (52)
Unfortunately, however, Butler's own solution of the Synoptic problem was scarcely satisfactory. According to Butler's hypothesis, Matthew wrote his Gospel in Aramaic during those early years of the Christian Church in which he and the other Apostles were still dwelling together in Palestine. Matthew's Aramaic Gospel was welcomed by his fellow Apostles and used by them to refresh their memories concerning Jesus' life and teachings. Later, after the Christian mission and movement had begun to take root in Greek-speaking towns and regions, Matthew made a translation of his Aramaic Gospel into Greek. This translation also was welcomed by the other Apostles and used as an aid in their apostolic preaching. When Peter, in his old age, was at Rome, he had with him a copy of this Greek Matthew. When Mark interviewed Peter to gather material for a second Gospel, Peter did not trust his memory but read to Mark selected passages from Matthew's Greek Gospel, making changes here and there. This is why Mark agrees very closely with Matthew in some places and differs in others. (53)
The preceding brief review shows the impossibility of solving the Synoptic problem on a naturalistic basis. The two supposedly underlying documents grow quickly to six or seven, and in addition there are conflations, translations, and editings. This problem can be solved only in a believing way. In dealing with the Gospel writers the fundamental emphasis must be on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit under which they wrote. It is this inspiration that binds the Synoptic Gospels together and is responsible for their agreements and their differences. Whether Matthew, Mark and Luke made use of a common oral tradition or whether they were familiar with one another's writings are interesting questions but not of vital importance. Certainly the Apostles and Evangelists had no need of written documents to refresh their memories of Jesus' words and works. The Holy Spirit brought these matters to their recall in accordance with the promise of the Saviour. He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you (John 14:26).
- Old Testament Higher Criticism—Moses Versus J. E. D and P
The so-called "higher" criticism of the Old Testament began in 1753 with the publication of a treatise written by Jean Astruc, a French physician. In this work Astruc maintained that Moses had used sources in composing the book of Genesis. His argument for this conclusion was founded mainly on the first two chapters of Genesis, in which two distinct accounts of the creation of the world and of man are given. In the first chapter the name Elohim is used for God, in the second the name Jehovah (often translated LORD). According to Astruc, these facts indicated that Moses had used two distinct documents as sources when he wrote the book of Genesis. (54)
Later this same theory was developed more thoroughly in Germany by Eichhorn (1780), Vater (1802), De Wette (1806), Bleek (1822), Ewald (1823), and others. Source analysis was applied to all five books of the Pentateuch, and the conclusion was reached that these books were not written by Moses at all but by three other ancient authors, namely: (1) the Elohist (E), who wrote Genesis 1 and the other passages in which God is given the name Elohim; (2) the Jehovist (J), who wrote Genesis 2 and the other passages in which God is given the name Jehovah; (3) the Deuteronomist (D), who wrote the book of Deuteronomy. And in addition there was the Redactor (R), that is to say, the editor, who, according to the critics, put the documents E and J together long after the death of Moses. (55)
In 1853 Hupfeld divided the E document into two parts, namely, the first Elohist, who wrote Genesis 1, and the second Elohist, who wrote some of the later portions of the E document. (56) Then in 1865 Graf revolutionized Old Testament higher criticism with his hypothesis that Genesis 1 and the other passages that Hupfeld had assigned to the first Elohist had actually been written by priestly writers after the Babylonian Exile and then added to the Pentateuch by a priestly redactor (editor) about 445 B.C. In accordance with Graf's hypothesis these passages were labelled P (priestly) and were regarded as the latest rather than the earliest portions of Scripture. In other words, according to Graf and his supporters, the creation account of Genesis 1 was a late development in Jewish thought and one of the last sections to be added to the Old Testament. (57)
But these critics could not substantiate their theory. This inability was demonstrated by conservative scholars of the period and notably by William Henry Green of Princeton Seminary. "The critics," Dr. Green (1895) observed, "are obliged to play fast and loose with the text in a manner and to a degree which renders all their reasoning precarious." (58) The following are a few of the examples which Dr. Green gives of this precarious reasoning.
"Elohim occurs inconveniently for the critics in Gen. 7:9; hence Kautsach claims that it must have been originally Jehovah, while Dillmann insists that vss. 8-9 were inserted by R (the redactor). The critics wish to make it appear that two accounts of the flood, by P and J respectively, have been blended in the existing text; and that vss. 7-9 is J's account and vss. 13-16 that by P. But unfortunately for them, this is blocked by the occurrence in each one of the verses assigned to J of expressions foreign to J and peculiar to P; and to cap the climax, the divine name is not J's but P's. The repetition cannot, therefore, be wrested into an indication of a duplicate narrative, but simply, as its language clearly shows, emphasizes the fact that the entry into the ark was made on the self-same day that the flood began.
" 'And Jehovah shut him in' (Gen. 7:16b) occurs in the midst of a P paragraph; hence it is alleged that this solitary clause has been inserted from a supposed parallel narrative by J. But this overlooks the significant and evidently intended contrast of the two divine names in this verse, a significance to which Delitzsch calls attention, thus discrediting the basis of the critical analysis which he nevertheless accepts. Animals of every species went into the ark, as Elohim, the God of creation and providence, directed, mindful of the preservation of what He had made; Jehovah, the guardian of His people, shut Noah in.
"Isaac's blessing of Jacob (Gen. 27:27-28) is torn asunder because Jehovah in the first sentence is followed by Elohim in the second.
"So Jacob's dream, in which he beholds the angels of Elohim (Gen. 28:12) and Jehovah (Gen. 28:13)" is also torn asunder; "although his waking (Gen. 28:16) from the sleep into which he had fallen (Gen. 28:11-12) shows that these cannot be parted Jacob's vow (Gen. 28:20-21) is arbitrarily amended by striking out 'then shall Jehovah be my God,' because of his previous mention of Elohim when referring to His general providential benefits.
"The story of the birth of Leah's first four sons (Gen. 29:31-35) and that of the fifth and sixth (Gen. 30:17-20) are traced to different documents notwithstanding their manifest connection, because Jehovah occurs in the former and Elohim in the latter.
"The battle with Amalek (Ex. 17:8-13) is assigned to E because of Elohim (Ex. 17:9); but the direction to record it, the commemorative altar, and the oath of perpetual hostility to Amalek (Ex. 17:14-16), which stand in a most intimate relation to it, are held to be from another document because of Jehovah." (59)
(e) Wellhausen's Reconstruction of the History of Israel
In 1878 Julius Wellhausen published his famous Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel. (60) This was a complete reconstruction of Old Testament history in agreement with Graf's hypothesis, which accordingly was renamed the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis. The history of Israel, Wellhausen maintained, began at Mt. Sinai, where Moses persuaded the Israelites to adopt Yahweh (Jehovah) as their tribal god. Ever afterwards they felt themselves to be Yahweh's people, and this feeling gave them a sense of national unity. But Moses gave them no laws. These were developed later after they had settled in the land of Canaan. This primitive legal code was transmitted orally until about 850 B.C. Then it was written down and incorporated in the J narrative and is now found in Exodus 20-23. (61)
Around 750 B.C., according to Wellhausen, a tremendous transformation of the religious thinking of ancient Israel began to take place. Mighty, prophetic reformers arose, such as Amos, Hosea and the first Isaiah, who publicly proclaimed that Yahweh was not a tribal deity but a righteous God who ruled all nations and would punish them for their sins, who would chastise even Israel. (62) This reform movement finally culminated in an exciting event which occurred about 621 B.C. Hilkiah the high priest found in the Temple the book of the law, which had been lost. This book was brought to king Josiah, who accepted it as genuine and called an assembly of the people in which he and the whole nation made a solemn covenant before Yahweh to keep all the commandments written in this book. This action, Wellhausen asserted, marked the entrance of the covenant-concept into Jewish thought. The covenant which Josiah made with Yahweh came to be regarded as typical. Ever after the Jews thought of themselves as Yahweh's covenant people. According to Wellhausen, however, the book that produced this profound effect was not an ancient book, as Josiah was led to believe, but the book of Deuteronomy, which had been written only a short time before by the leaders of the reform movement and placed in the Temple for the express purpose of being "discovered." (63) How Josiah and the people could have been so easily deceived the critics do not say.
And what about the biblical data that contradict Wellhausen's hypothesis? What about those passages which indicate that the book of Deuteronomy was known and obeyed in the days of Joshua and Samuel? In Deuteronomy the Israelites were forbidden to offer up sacrifices in any other location than the place which God should choose for this purpose (Deut. 12:13-14). Accordingly, in Joshua 22:10-34 we find the majority of the people zealous to obey this commandment and ready to punish with the sword those who seemed to have violated it. Also in 1 Samuel, chapters 1 and 2, we find this Deuteronomic law in operation, with pious Israelites coming up every year to offer sacrifices at the Tabernacle in Shiloh. Solomon also, in his prayer of dedication, emphasized that the Temple was that single worship center which had been chosen for the nation by God (1 Kings 8:16). And throughout the sacred history even pious kings are censured for permitting sacrifices to be offered at the high places rather than in the Temple. Do not these facts prove that the book of Deuteronomy was in existence and known from the time of Moses onward?
Wellhausen had a ready answer to this question. These passages, he maintained, were the inventions of later authors and editors who desired to give the false impression that Deuteronomy had been written by Moses and had always been known in Israel. (64) And to prove his thesis Wellhausen pointed to other passages which, in his opinion, demonstrated that Deuteronomy with its commandment to sacrifice at one national worship-center was not known until the time of Josiah. According to Wellhausen, these passages indicated that Gideon, Manoah, Samuel, Saul, Elijah and Elisha all sacrificed wherever they pleased without any thought of a divinely appointed worship-center. (65) It was to put an end to this chaotic state of affairs, Wellhausen argued, and to centralize divine worship at the Temple at Jerusalem that the leaders of the reform movement wrote the book of Deuteronomy and persuaded king Josiah to accept it as a genuine writing of Moses.
In other words, according to Wellhausen, after these Deuteronomic reformers had perpetrated their pious fraud, they and their successors made false entries in the sacred records in order to cover their tracks. But at the same time they were so stupid as to leave untouched all those passages by means of which Wellhausen and other 19th century higher critics were able at last to expose their trickery. Surely this is an incredible paradox rather than a reasonable explanation of the biblical data.
According to the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis, the Levitical laws of sacrifice and of ceremonial holiness were developed during the Babylonian exile by Ezekiel and other captive priests, and it was out of these formulations that the present book of Leviticus was put together after the exile by writers of the priestly school (P). (66) Here we have another unconvincing paradox. All during the time in which the glorious Temple of Solomon was standing, with the Ark of God inside it and all the sacred furniture, the priests, according to the critics, had no book of ceremonial law to "guide them. Then after the Ark had disappeared, the Temple had been burnt, and the people had been carried away to a foreign land, the complicated ritual of Leviticus was formulated for the first time. How very strange!
But if we recognize Moses as the author of the Pentateuch, the fantastic conjectures of the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis give way to more balanced views concerning the sacrificial laws of ancient Israel. The first such law of sacrifice was revealed to Moses by God (Exodus 20:23-26) immediately after the giving of the Ten Commandments. Instead of images of gold and silver the Israelites were commanded to erect unto Jehovah an altar of earth and unhewn stone. This divine injunction was placed at the beginning of the Book of the Covenant, which Moses wrote soon after and read to the people and which the people promised to obey. It was the basic law of sacrifice. Later, after the Tabernacle was erected, God modified it so as to place the duty of sacrificing into the hands of the priests whom He had appointed for this purpose. This transfer Moses recorded in the book of Leviticus. Finally, in the book of Deuteronomy Moses instructed the people regarding the national worship-center which God would establish at some future time in the promised land. These modifications were usually in force, but on special occasions and in times of chaos and confusion the law of sacrifice reverted to the original form in which it was first revealed to Moses at Mt. Sinai. For this reason the sacrifices of Gideon, Manoah, Samuel, Saul, Elijah and Elisha were acceptable to God even though they were not offered in the Tabernacle or the Temple.
(f) Modern Archeological Discoveries—Barthianism
Although naturalistic Old Testament scholars still subscribe to the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis, modern archeological discoveries have greatly weakened this critical reconstruction of Old Testament history. Beginning in the 1920's, a series of investigations in this field has shown that the Old Testament narratives are a good deal more accurate than was once thought possible. (67) This accuracy is hard to explain on the basis of Wellhausen's theory that these stories were transmitted orally until they were finally committed to writing about 850 B.C. Moreover, it has been demonstrated that writing was in common use long before the days of Moses. (68) There is no reason, therefore, on that score why Moses and other ancient Hebrews could not have written books. And, most important of all, Wellhausen's contention that the Israelites worshiped a tribal god has been challenged by the facts, since no instances of this tribal-god concept have been found in the religions of the ancient Orient. (69)
But if the ancient Israelites did not worship a tribal god, what did they worship? In 1933 Walther Eichrodt appealed to Karl Barth's theology for an answer to this question, (70) and since that time many other scholars have cane the same. Shifting the covenant-concept back from the reign of Josiah to the time of Moses, these Barthians assert that on Mt. Sinai Moses organized the children of Israel into a covenant community. The Old Testament is the witness of this community to the mighty acts of God, which began with the deliverance from Egyptian bondage. But according to these Barthian critics, it is impossible to tell what these acts of God really were because it is impossible to separate an act of God from the response of the community to that act. (71)
But what does all this mean historically? Were the ancient Israelites Barthians? If not, what was their status, religiously speaking? The critics have no firm answer to this question. According to Albright (1946), Moses was a monotheist. (72) But since 1955 it has been generally maintained that the Sinai covenant was modeled after the treaties of the ancient Hittite kings, (73) and this would imply, it seems, that the ancient Israelites were polytheists after all. If so, when did they become monotheists? Actually, however, the resemblance of these Hittite treaties to the Sinaitic covenant seems very slight. And the theory itself seems very improbable. For if the Israelites were such admirers of these Hittite treaty formulas, why did they not reproduce them in other Old Testament passages also? Why only in Exodus?
If, therefore, we desire to learn the true meaning of the Sinaitic covenant, we must turn neither to the Hittites nor to the Barthian theology nor to the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis but to the Scriptures as the infallible Word and especially to the New Testament. There we find that at Sinai God introduced His holy Law as a school master to bring His people to Christ (Gal. 3:24).
(g) The Account of Moses' Death—Who Wrote It?
If Moses wrote the Pentateuch, who wrote the account of Moses' death (Deut. 34:1-12)? Many conservative scholars say that it was added by an inspired scribe, but this is an entirely unnecessary hypothesis. If an inspired scribe was needed to write of Moses' death and burial, events which no man witnessed, why couldn't Moses have been that scribe? Why couldn't he have been inspired to write of his own death beforehand? And in regard to the other objections which even before the advent of Old Testament higher criticism were raised by Spinoza (1670), Simon (1685), and LeClerc (1685), a similar answer may be returned. As Witsius (1692), the learned Hebraist, proved long ago, none of the verses pointed out by these 17th century rationalists can be demonstrated decisively to be of post-Mosaic origin. None of them necessarily implies that the author was looking back from a position in time later than that of Moses. (74)
(h) Jesus and the Critics
Jesus named Moses explicitly as the author of the Pentateuch. Did not Moses give you the Law?, He asked the Jews (John 7:19). And again, remonstrating with these hardened unbelievers, He protested, Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed Me; for He wrote of Me (John 5:46). Also in His controversy with the Saducees Jesus calls Exodus the book of Moses (Mark 12:26). And similarly Jesus recognized Moses, not P and D, as the author of Leviticus (Matt. 8:4) and Deuteronomy (Mark 10:5). Hence it is not surprising that critics who have adopted naturalistic views concerning the Pentateuch and the other Old Testament books have also adopted naturalistic views concerning Jesus, charging Him either with deceit or with ignorance and error. Let us now consider some of these views.
(1 ) The Aristocratic Jesus. Spinoza and LeClerc and other 17th-century rationalists assumed an aristocratic attitude in matters of religion. Although they thought themselves to have progressed to a higher state of knowledge, they deemed it best for the common people to continue in the religions in which they had been reared and to cultivate piety and a peaceful and quiet life. And they attributed to Jesus this same aristocratic tolerance of the errors of the masses. "It will be said, perhaps," LeClerc argued, "that Jesus Christ and the Apostles often quote the Pentateuch under the name of Moses, and that their authority should be of greater weight than all our conjectures. But Jesus Christ and the Apostles not having come into the world to teach the Jews criticism, we must not be surprised if they speak in accordance with the common opinion. It was of little consequence to them whether it was Moses or another, provided the history was true; and as the common opinion was not prejudicial to piety, they took no great pains to disabuse the Jews." (75) But to this notion Witsius well replied that if our Lord and His Apostles were not teachers of criticism, at any rate, they were teachers of truth. (76) As teachers of truth they could not have accommodated their doctrine to the errors of their time.
(2) The Kenotic Jesus. During the 19th century there were certain theologians and critics who adopted a kenotic view of Jesus. They believed that the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, took place by means of a kenosis, which is the Greek word for emptying. At the incarnation, they maintained, Jesus Christ emptied Himself of His divine nature and became entirely human. They based this view on Phil. 2:7, where we are told that Christ made Himself of no reputation (literally, emptied Himself). In England one of the most prominent advocates of this kenotic interpretation of the incarnation of Christ was Charles Gore (1891), later bishop of Oxford. In his Bampton Lectures Gore argued that while on earth Christ had so far divested Himself of His divine omniscience that He participated not only in human ignorance but also in human error. According to Gore, "our Lord actually committed Himself to an error of fact in regard to the authorship of the 110th Psalm." In matters of Old Testament higher criticism, Gore contended, Jesus chose to be ignorant and mistaken. This, Gore maintained, was part of the kenosis, the divine self-emptying of Christ's incarnation. (77)
But if Jesus was so mistaken concerning the Old Testament, how can we trust Him in regard to other matters ? Praise God, then, that the kenotic view of Christ's incarnation is not true! While on earth Christ veiled His divine glory, but He did not put it off. This is the true meaning of Phil. 2:7. Christ could not lay aside His Godhead, for His deity is unchangeable.
(3) The Prophetic Jesus. During the latter part of the 19th century most naturalistic scholars regarded Jesus as merely a great prophet or moral teacher. One of the best known advocates of this point of view was Adolf Harnack, famous professor of Church History at the University of Berlin. In his lectures on the Essence of Christianity ( 1900) Harnack grouped the teaching of Jesus under three heads: "Firstly, the kingdom of God and its coming. Secondly, God the Father and the infinite value of the human soul. Thirdly, the higher righteousness and the commandment of love." (78) According to Harnack, Jesus' chief concern was to preach the Fatherhood of God. The Gospel, Harnack declared, is "the Fatherhood of God applied to the whole of life." (79)
This, then, was one of the chief reasons why the 19th-century liberals were so eager to find the solution of their Synoptic problem. They believed that if only they could trace the Synoptic Gospels back to their sources they would recover the historical Jesus. They would see Jesus, they thought, as He really was, as merely a very great prophet and moral teacher and not as the divine Son of God that the early Christian Church had depicted Him as being. Such were the expectations of these naturalistic scholars, but their hopes were quickly disappointed. Even the earliest of the supposed sources were found to be theological documents. Even in Mark and Q Jesus appears as a supernatural Person, the Christ of God. William Wrede, a radical German scholar, was one of the first to point this out irrefutably in his celebrated treatise, The Messianic Secret (1901) (80) From the standpoint of unbelief this result was very strange, but from the standpoint of Christian faith it was just what might have been anticipated.
(4) The Apocalyptic Jesus. In his famous book, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906), Albert Schweitzer presented Jesus as one whose life was dominated by the prophecy of Daniel and especially by the expression Son of Man (Dan 7:13). According to Schweitzer, Jesus' ministry lasted only one year. All during that year Jesus was expecting that the Kingdom of God would come in a supernatural manner and that He would be revealed as the Messiah, the heavenly Son of Man. When he sent the twelve disciples out to preach, He thought that this supernatural event would occur before they returned, but He was disappointed in this hope. Finally, He became convinced that in order to bring this present world to an end and to usher in a new supernatural world it would be necessary for Him to die first. With this purpose in mind He went up to Jerusalem at Passover time and was crucified. (81) But in spite of this disaster, so Schweitzer maintained, a "mighty spiritual force" streamed forth from Jesus and became "the solid foundation of Christianity." (82) How could this have been so if Jesus had been the deluded fanatic that Schweitzer depicted Him as being?
(5) The Kerygmatic Jesus. Since World War I, and especially since World War II, the kerygmatic view of Jesus' life has increasingly dominated the theological scene. According to this view, the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels is the product of the preaching (kerygma) of the Christian community. Early Christian preachers, it is said, used anecdotes of Jesus' life and sayings attributed to Him to drive home the points they were endeavoring to make. Later these anecdotes and sayings were compiled by editors, and from these compilations the Synoptic Gospels were produced. But by the method of Form-criticism (Formgeschichte) it is thought possible to analyze these Gospel narratives into their supposedly original fragments. This method, which was used in the study of German folklore, was applied to the New Testament immediately after World War I by K. L. Schmidt, M. Dibelius and R. Bultmann and widely adopted during the inter-war period. (83) And since World War II Form-criticism has thrived greatly, under the leadership of Bultmann and also of younger scholars such as E. Kaesemann, G. Bornkamm and H. Conzelmann. (84)
Since World War II the Form-critics have devoted much attention to the "Son of Man problem." This problem deals with the use of the title Son of Man and with the origin and meaning of this designation. In the Synoptic Gospels the Son of Man is spoken of in three ways: (1) as coming, e.g. Mark 13:26; (2) as suffering death and rising again, e.g. Mark 10:33-34; (3) as now at work, e.g. Mark 2:10. (85) What is the basic meaning of this term, and why is it used in these three distinct senses? Did Jesus ever speak of the Son of Man, and if so, did He apply this title to Himself? Many Form-critics answer this last question in the negative. Jesus, they insist, never claimed to be the Son of Man, never even used this expression, some of them add. It was the primitive Christian community, they assert, that introduced this designation, first speaking of Jesus as the coming Son of Man and then extending the term to include Jesus' death and resurrection and the deeds of His earthly ministry. (86) But if Jesus owes the title Son of Man to the usage of the primitive Christian community, why is it that all traces of this popular usage have vanished? Why is it that in the New Testament with but few exceptions, the expression Son of Man is found only on the lips of Jesus? Form-critics confess that they have not been able to solve this problem. (87)
The solution of the "Son of Man problem" is found only in the fact of the incarnation. The term Son of Man was Jesus' own way of referring to His human nature as distinguished from His divine nature, to Himself as perfect Man, in which capacity He was active in the deeds of His earthly ministry, suffered and died and rose again, and shall appear in glory at the last day.
Perhaps more than any other group of naturalistic scholars the Form-critics are apt to go to extremes, especially in their attempts to bypass the Apostles and discover the origin of Christianity in the "Christian community." Contrary to the Book of Acts and the unanimous testimony of ancient ecclesiastical writers, they represent the Apostles as receiving instruction from the Christian community rather than founding the Christian community upon their doctrine. This is particularly the case with the Apostle Paul. Although Paul solemnly certified that the gospel which he preached was "not after man" nor "received of man" (Gal. 1:11-12), the Form-critics do not hesitate to contradict him and derive his doctrine from the Christian community. They maintain, for example, that some of Paul's most important doctrinal statements concerning the Person and work of Christ (Rom. 1:3-4; 4:25; Eph. 2:14-16, Phil. 2:6-11, Col. 1:15-20, 1 Tim. 3:16) were quotations from certain Christological hymns which had been composed by the Christian community. (88) In these passages therefore, according to the Form-critics, Paul was not teaching the Christian community anything but merely rehearsing to the community what he had learned from it. But who were these unknown hymn makers of the Christian community who were able to mold the thinking of the Apostle Paul? How could these profound theological geniuses have remained anonymous?
According to Conzelmann (1969), the Christian community was assembled "through the appearances of the Risen One and the preaching of the witnesses to these appearances!" (89) Are we to conclude from this, then, that Jesus' resurrection is a historical event? To this question Conzelmann gives a disappointing answer. A historian, he asserts, cannot prove that Jesus really rose from the dead but only that the disciples believed that Jesus did so. (90) But why did the disciples believe this? To this question the Form-critics merely give the Barthian answer that the disciples chose to believe so. "The Church had to surmount the scandal of the cross," Bultmann tells us "and did it in the Easter faith." (91) But why did the disciples choose to believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Because He really did so and shewed Himself to them alive after His passion by many infallible proofs ( Acts 1:3) . This is the simple answer of the Bible which Form-critics decline to accept but to which they can find no convincing alternative.
3. Naturalistic Textual Criticism And Apologetics
In the preceding pages it has been proved historically that the logic of naturalistic textual criticism leads to complete modernism, to a naturalistic view not only of the biblical text but also of the Bible as a whole and of the Christian faith. For if it is right to ignore the providential preservation of the Scriptures in the study of the New Testament text, why isn't it right to go farther in the same direction? Why isn't it right to ignore other divine aspects of the Bible? Why isn't it right to ignore the divine inspiration of the Scriptures when discussing the authenticity of the Gospel of John or the Synoptic problem or the authorship of the Pentateuch? And why isn't it right to ignore the doctrines of the Trinity and of the incarnation when dealing with the messianic consciousness of Jesus and the Son of Man problem?
Impelled by this remorseless logic, many an erstwhile conservative Bible student has become entirely modernistic in his thinking. But he does not acknowledge that he has departed from the Christian faith. For from his point of view he has not. He has merely traveled farther down the same path which he began to tread when first he studied naturalistic textual criticism of the Westcott and Hort type, perhaps at some conservative theological seminary. From his point of view his orthodox former professors are curiously inconsistent. They use the naturalistic method in the area of New Testament textual criticism and then drop it most illogically, like something too hot to handle, when they come to other departments of biblical study.
(a) Naturalistic Apologetics — The Fallacy of the Neutral Starting Point
This inconsistency in regard to the textual criticism of the Bible and especially of the New Testament has historical roots which reach back three hundred years to the late 17th century. At that time the deists and other unbelievers came up with a novel suggestion. "Let us not," they proposed, "begin our thinking by assuming the truth of Christianity. Let us rather take as our starting point only those truths on which Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Mohammedans, and all good men of every religion and creed agree. Then, standing on this neutral platform of common agreement, let us test all religions and creeds by the light of reason."
Instead of rejecting this proposal as fundamentally unchristian, orthodox Protestant scholars accepted the challenge and during the 18th century developed various apologetic arguments, armed with which they endeavored to meet the unbelievers on their own chosen ground and, fighting in this neutral arena, to demonstrate the truth of historic Christianity and the error of infidelity. Unhappily, however, these orthodox champions did not realize that they had been out-maneuvered and that by the very act of adopting a neutral starting point they had already denied the faith that they intended to defend and had ensured that any argument that they might thereafter advance would be inconsistent.
(b) The Butler-Paley Apologetic System
Joseph Butler (1692-1752) and William Paley (1743-1805) were the two authors of the neutral apologetic system which in many conservative theological seminaries during the 19th and early 20th centuries was taught side by side with the older Reformation faith without any due recognition of the basic difference between these two approaches to Christianity, the one beginning with reason, the common truths on which all good men agree, the other beginning with revelation, the divine truth on which all men, good or bad, ought to agree.
Butler, who later became bishop of Durham, published his famous Analogy of Religion in 1736. This book dealt with the analogy (similarity) existing between the Christian religion and the facts of nature, as they were known to the science of Butler's day. The book was divided into two parts, the first part dealing with "natural religion," i.e., religious truths revealed in nature as well as in the Bible, and the second part dealing with "revealed religion," i.e., religious truths revealed only in the Bible. The purpose of the book was to show deists and other unbelievers that the same difficulties which they found in the doctrines of Christianity were found also in the facts of nature. Hence Christianity, Butler contended, was, at the very least, just as probable as deism or any other form of unbelief. Therefore it was only prudent to accept Christianity at least on a probability basis, for probability, Butler reminded his readers, was "the very guide of life." (92) It is said, however, that on his death bed Butler came to recognize that Christianity cannot be received as a probability but only as the truth and that he died triumphantly repeating John 6:37.
Paley, archdeacon of Carlisle, published his Evidences of Christianity in 1794. In it he refuted the objections of the deists and of skeptics such as David Hume to the historicity of the miracles of Jesus. "There is satisfactory evidence," he contended, "that many professing to be original witnesses of Christian miracles, passed their lives in labors, dangers, and sufferings, voluntarily undergone in attestation of the accounts which they delivered, and solely in consequence of their belief of those accounts; and that they also submitted, from the same motives, to new rules of conduct." In other words, the sufferings which Jesus' disciples endured and their changed lives were proofs that the miracles to which they bore witness, actually occurred. And to this argument Paley added another, namely, the uniqueness of Jesus. Jesus was not an "enthusiast" or an "impostor," as others were who claimed to be Messiahs, but remained "absolutely original and singular." This uniqueness proved that Jesus was truly the Christ He claimed to be. (93)
No less famous was Paley's Natural Theology, published in 1802. In it Paley compared the universe to a watch. If in crossing a field we should find a watch, the intricate machinery of which it was composed would soon convince us that it had not existed from all eternity but had been constructed by a watchmaker. So the much more intricate machinery of the physical world and especially of the bodies of animals and men should convince us that the whole universe has been created by an all-wise God. In discoursing upon this theme Paley exhibited a very considerable knowledge of anatomy and used it to refute the theory of evolution, which in his day was just beginning to raise its head. (94)
Throughout the 19th century annotated editions of these works of Butler and Paley were used as textbooks in the colleges and theological seminaries of Great Britain and America and served as models for later apologetic writings. But although the Butler-Paley apologetic system accomplished much immediate good, in the long run its effect was detrimental to the Christian faith because it presented Christianity as merely a probability and not as the truth. Also it made the starting point of Christian thought dependent on the whims of unbelievers, since, according to the Butler-Paley system, we build our defense of the Christian faith upon the truths on which all men agree. And, finally, the Butler-Paley apologetic system, by its emphasis on probability and on a common starting point with unbelievers, encouraged orthodox Christians to think that they must deal with the text of holy Scripture in the same way in which unbelievers deal with it. Hence the Butler-Paley apologetic system contributed greatly to the spread of naturalistic textual criticism in orthodox Christian circles.
(c) The Need for a Consistently Christian Apologetic System
Today, therefore, there is great need for a consistently Christian apologetic system, for a defense of the Christian faith which takes as its starting point not the facts on which all men agree but the supreme fact on which all men ought to agree, namely, God's revelation of Himself in nature, in the holy Scriptures, and in the Gospel of Christ, the saving message of the Scriptures.
God reveals Himself, not mere doctrines concerning Himself, but HIMSELF. The Biblical doctrine of salvation reminds us that this is indeed a fact. I am saved by trusting in Jesus personally. But how can I believe in Jesus Christ as a Person unless He first reveal Himself? In the Gospel, therefore, Jesus Christ reveals Himself to me as the triune Saviour God, and not to me only but to all sinners everywhere. And God reveals Himself not only in the Gospel but also in the whole of Scripture as the faithful Covenant God and likewise in this great universe which His hands have made as the almighty Creator God.
This divine revelation is the starting point of a consistently Christian apologetic system. Taking our stand upon it, we point out the inconsistencies of unbelieving thought and then show how these difficulties can be resolved by a return to God's revealed Truth.
(d) How to Take Our Stand—Through the Logic of Faith
How do we take our stand upon divine revelation? Only in one way, namely through the logic of faith. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16). Since this Gospel is true, these conclusions logically follow: First, the Bible is God's infallibly inspired Word. This must be so, because if our salvation depends on our believing in Christ, then surely God must have left us an infallible record telling us who Jesus Christ is and how we may believe in Him truly and savingly. Second, the Bible has been preserved down through the ages by God's special providence. This also must be so, because if God has inspired the holy Scriptures infallibly, then surely He has not left their survival to chance but has preserved them providentially down through the centuries. Third, the text found in the majority of the biblical manuscripts is the providentially preserved text. This too must be true, because if God has preserved the Scriptures down through the ages for the salvation of men and the edification and comfort of His Church, then He must have preserved them not secretly in holes and caves but in a public way in the usage of His Church. Hence the text found in the majority of the biblical manuscripts is the true, providentially preserved text. Fourth, The providential preservation of the Scriptures did not cease with the invention of printing. For why would God's special, providential care be operative at one time and not at another time, before the invention of printing but not after it? Hence the first printed texts of the Old and New Testament Scriptures were published under the guidance of God's special providence.
Thus when we believe in Christ, the logic of our faith leads us to the true text of holy Scripture, namely, the Masoretic Hebrew text, the Textus Receptus, and the King James Version and other faithful translations. It is on this text, therefore, that we take our stand and endeavor to build a consistently Christian apologetic system.Index
(For further details regarding the logic of faith consult Believing Bible Study, pp. 55-66.)