Biblical criticism is a comparatively recent development in the history of the Christian Church. Beginning with the rise of rationalism in the seventeenth century under Spinoza and later with the Encyclopedists of the French Revolution, Christian scholars were confronted with the problems of the historical origins and validity of the biblical records. If, as their opponents contended, much of their content was a mass of legend, written at a time later than the traditional dates demanded, composed by men who possessed no first-hand knowledge of the facts, and carelessly copied by ignorant scribes, the genuineness and authority of the Bible would be seriously impaired. How could a jumbled miscellany of myths, shaped by the limited knowledge and concepts of an unenlightened or bigoted era, convey any imperative message that modern scientific thinkers would accept?

In the attempt to meet the attack, biblical criticism was developed as a science. The problem of the accurate transmission of the manuscript text was the province of textual (lower) criticism; the objections to its historicity and literary integrity became the battlefield of historical (higher) criticism. Unfortunately much of the rationalistic attitude of the Encyclopedists was perpetuated in the development of critical study. Many of its advocates rejected the authenticity and integrity of the biblical books, though they attempted to retain Christian faith while destroying its foundations.

Biblical higher criticism is not necessarily an assault on the Scriptures but is an examination of their historical and literary relation to the times and events concerning which they were written. The study is not in itself destructive; it can confirm and illuminate the biblical ...

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