Recent scholarship boasts that more new light is being thrown upon the meaning of the Scriptures today than in many a century, much of this advance being attributed to greater knowledge of the language of the Bible. The knowledge of language here referred to is not that of the details of Hebrew grammar nor of the fixing of the vocabulary through comparison with Ugaritic poems and other ancient documents. Such digging into the minutiae of the past is flouted as mere academic scholarship. No doubt it has some use or other, but it has little to do—so it is said—with the spiritualities of a living palpitating religion.
Our new knowledge about language—equally scholarly of course with grammatical studies—frees us from dependence on such laborious methods! No longer is our faith bound by Semitic verb forms and syntax. On the contrary, it is now accepted by all intelligent churchmen—any who do not, are unintelligent—that language is symbolic. All language is symbolic, but religious knowledge is peculiarly so. Very peculiarly.
When we understand that language is symbolic and not literal, the “advantages” accruing to biblical studies soon become apparent. Merely compare the superiority of present biblical knowledge with the procedures of 50 years ago. The best the Wellhausen critics could do was to complain that the narratives of Genesis were historically false because they pictured Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as individuals, when as a matter of fact (as the critics theorized) they are names of tribes and dynasties that continued over many centuries. Today the “new look” in critical circles scorns this Wellhausian type of criticism as stupidly literal: because it was commonly thought that religion was based on historical truth, one was ...1
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